I’m excited. Peeping through the classroom window I can see a tutor delivering a simple sequence of postures and breathing techniques for his pupil. The session is gentle and calm. There’s a lovely rapport building between them as they mirror one another’s flowing movements. He then asks his pupil to lie down and once snuggled in a blanket offers gentle ‘squishes’ and massage. This is a wonderful moment and for the pupil a huge achievement because he has complex Autism.
What is autism?
- Autism is a lifelong developmental disability, which affects 1 in 100 people in the UK
- It affects the way a person communicates and how they experience the world around them
- Autism is a spectrum condition meaning people living with autism share certain characteristics but each will be highly individual in their needs
- Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may face additional challenges, including learning disabilities
- Early intervention, education and support are critical in enabling people with autism to lead fulfilling lives
Some characteristics of complex autism
- Non verbal or limited communication
- Complex behaviours, OCD, stimming, scripting, non compliance
- Difficulty coping with unplanned change & social situations
- Sensory overload issues – sound, light, commands
During 2014 I was invited to work alongside specialist tutors at the prestigious Treehouse primary school, based in Muswell Hill, London and home to the charity Ambitious about Autism.
My role was to develop a yoga and dance curriculum for the school. I set to task developing a practice that offered pupils and tutors tools to help regulate anxiety and agitated states within the classroom.
Simple breathing techniques, yoga postures, movement to music and relaxation exercises formed the foundation. Supported by a number of resources such as yoga mats, blankets, eye pillows, soothing music, sensory props and visual prompts.
Both staff and pupils took to the yoga classes instantly. Pupils would rush into the yoga space, kicking off shoes, rolling out mats and snuggling under blankets. The coming months were a joy to teach and the most delightful outcome for me was the connection that developed between both pupil and tutor. The calm, gentle nature of yoga was clearly a welcomed change from the targets of the classroom.
On several occasions tutors would remark on the positive changes and the enjoyment that the children gained from the sessions. One remarked, with tears in his eyes, ‘It’s just very moving to see my pupil excited to come to yoga, regulate his mood and leave feeling happy. It’s magic!’
The benefits of yoga for Autism
- Activates calming hormones, such as serotonin
- Focus on breath and movement offers self-regulation tools
- Bilateral movements balance brain hemispheres enhancing mood
- Helps organise the nervous system
- Builds confidence & self awareness
- Good for posture, core strength, balance & flexibility
- Refines gross and fine motor skills
- Encourages trust between classmates and tutors
- Good for emotional growth and happiness
Inclusive Movement Therapy Training
Today, I still enjoy working at Treehouse and the experience inspired me to set up a community project, IMTYoga, inclusive movement therapy, delivering workshops and training to anyone living with or supporting those with Autism and other special needs. This includes parents, carers and teaching professionals – FREE sessions available throughout the year!
Try this breathing activity to stimulate and regulate the senses
Blowing bubbles – a simple sensory act that encourages our visual, tactile, auditory and inner sensations that enhance focus and inner peace.
1. Stand or sit in a comfortable position
2. Holding the bottle of bubbles, take a deep breath in slowly throw the nose
3. Take the dipper out of the bottle and slowly a smooth flow of bubbles
4. Repeat focusing on the slow inhalations and exhalations
About Cathy Underwood
Cathy is a busy mum of two and the founder of the multi award winning business Yoga4mums and the newly formed IMTYoga project. She has senior teacher trainer status recognised by the Yoga Professional Alliance UK and recently became one of the first Female Founder Ambassadors for the UK, championing women in business.
To find out more about Cathy’s classes, retreats and IMTYoga Project please visit www.yoga4mums.com/imtyoga