As Hans Asperger says: “It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential.” His quotation celebrates and recognises the strengths of this condition with a nod to the incredible achievements of autistic people.
As with the rest of the population, everyone with Autism has their own set of needs, however there are some common features in diagnosis, such as feeling and noticing far too much, which can often result in anxiety.
They may also experience not being able to notice where their bodies are in a space as well as having balance issues, resulting in repetitive behaviours such as rocking, swaying, banging objects, jumping, and spinning to restore steadiness, provide sensory feedback, and to self-sooth.
For others, such as children who walk on their tiptoes, they may appear ungrounded suggesting a state of bodily disconnection to help them deal with sensory overload.
This is where Yoga Therapy for Autism can be useful by helping them reconnect to themselves, feel grounded, develop the ability to self soothe, feel calm, and most of all – to feel SAFE.
So how can specific Yoga Therapy techniques be of benefit?
Helping the individual to move from an awareness of the environment can be a supportive transition at the start and end of each session, for example, being aware of their surroundings: Noticing entrances, exits, windows, shapes, colours, light, textures, sounds, and any part of the body touching the ground.
This may be useful for those who are constantly overloaded with their senses, for example by asking: “Name 3 things you can see, 2 hear, 1 feel.”
Deep breathing from the belly encourages a feeling of calmness. Using sounds such as humming, or hissing, whilst placing hands on the body and feeling the vibrations provides sensory feedback and can be self-soothing.
To dial down stress and increase a sense of safety, repetitive Yoga moves, such as rocking on the back holding the knees towards the chest or creating a weighted sensation in the body such as in gentle squeeze and release of the muscles in a guided relaxation may be of help.
Grounding yoga moves where awareness of the body through the legs and the floor may be encouraged. For example, starting with standing Yoga poses and then slowly easing down to stretches, to relieve tense muscle, and floor exercises may help to decrease sensory arousal.
As the balance system in the brain may be compromised with Autism, this can be helped by Yoga techniques focusing on stability.
To increase a sense of connection to the body, the individual could be asked to describe and relate to physical sensations, for example, “Sometimes when I reach forward, I start to feel something around my back. Maybe you do too. Or maybe it’s a little bit different. What do you feel when you do this?”’
But, most of all, any practice should be choice-based, allowing opt outs, or the selection of poses from a deck of Yoga cards. A quiet space with no distractions and effective communication that is steady, regulated, calm, and consistent via voice and body language will also be of benefit.