Children with autism spectrum disorder who participate in classroom yoga tend to behave better than kids with autism who don’t, according to a new study.
Teachers at an elementary school in the Bronx reported that their school’s daily yoga program reduced aggressive behavior, social withdrawal and hyperactivity in the children with autism.
Yoga is effective, says Kristie Patten Koenig, Ph.D., an assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York University, because it seems to cater to the strengths of children with autism, while also reducing stress.
“We know that anxiety fuels a lot of the negative behavior, so the yoga program gives them a strategy to cope with it,” Koenig tells Shots.
“And if it’s done every morning, it becomes an integral part of the day that sets the status of the classroom and allows the kids to become calm, focused and ready to learn.”
According to the researchers, yoga is increasingly being used in classrooms across the U.S. to help improve behavior and performance in school.
Early research suggests that yoga exercises help kids concentrate and focus, and improves their strength, motor coordination and social skills.
The Bronx school had the students follow a specific routine each morning, five days a week, for 17 minutes. The routine included the following steps: mats out, breathe deep, assume yoga poses, tense and relax muscles, and, finally, sing.
For 16 weeks, researchers studied the yoga program and compared the participating children to a control group of kids doing a standard morning routine.
In the end, the teachers reported that the kids participating in yoga exhibited significantly fewer problematic behaviors overall.
Many researchers assert that kids with autism become engaged in behavioral therapies early on, when they seem most effective. Intensive interventions like the Early Start Denver Model, which has therapists work with children in their homes four hours a day, five days a week, also appear to be effective.
Autism spectrum disorders interfere with a person’s ability to communicate and understand social cues. People with the most severe form of the disorder are unable to speak.
The yoga program is being implemented in more than 500 classrooms across the city of New York among students ages 5 through 21 with significant disabilities.