NYU (US) — Students with autism had a significant decrease in aggression, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity when they did yoga daily, researchers report.
Students attending District 75’s P.S. 176X in the Bronx—which serves the largest population of students on the autism spectrum in the United States—took part in the yoga regimen for 17 minutes a day, five days a week, for 16 weeks.
“We found that teachers’ ratings of students who participated in the daily yoga routine showed improved behavior compared with teachers’ ratings of students who did not,” says Kristie Koenig, assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York University and co-author of the study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
“Our aim in this research was to examine the effectiveness of an occupational therapy yoga intervention. Our research indicates that a manualized systemic yoga program, implemented on a daily basis, can be brought to public school classrooms as an option for improving classroom behavior.”
“Get Ready to Learn,” (GRTL) the intervention program used in the study, was designed by occupational therapist and yoga instructor Anne Buckley-Reen in 2008, in collaboration with Barbara Joseph, District 75 deputy superintendent. District 75 is the nation’s largest special education district in an urban public school system.
GRTL uses yoga postures, breathing, and relaxation techniques to help energize, organize, and calm students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It helps prepare students mentally and physically for the day’s lessons.
“GRTL gets children out of the stressed state and prepares their brains and bodies to learn,” Reen explains. “Children with Autism often exhibit characteristics of ‘fight-or-flight’ response. They are in a constant state of stress and struggle with staying calm, trying to concentrate, communicating clearly, or even controlling their movements.
“Many students with ASD and other challenges have missed critical developmental stages which impact body awareness and perception of self. How can we expect these students to connect to others, if they are not connected to themselves? GRTL provides opportunities to make and strengthen these mind-body connections.”
With GRTL training supported by both the district and participating school, teachers led the daily routine that includes eight minutes of varied postures, three minutes of weight-bearing poses, three minutes of deep breathing to help reduce stress, three minutes of muscle tension and release, and concludes with a circle of song.
“This circle of song creates a vibrating of the lungs which helps students to find their voice and contribute to classroom harmony,” says Reen. “We sing the name of the students in back and forth exchanges. This encourages engagement from all students, even those with limited speech.”
GRTL is currently being implemented in more than 500 classrooms in District 75 across the city of New York with students ages five through 21 with significant disabilities. It is also in typical classrooms in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont.
“This research points to new ways that can help students self-regulate their behavior for longer periods of time. This type of daily programming provides them with a foundation for function so they can focus and attend for longer periods of time.
“This is one way they are able to learn effectively,” says Joseph. “Programs like this can enhance communication and socialization skills. Parents have seen changes in their children at home. They tell us they have seen improvement in their children’s speech, communication, and behavior.”
Source: New York University