Great article about the poor synching of auditory and visual sensory information in children with autism. It’s no surprise, as virtually all the kids I see have issues with eye coordination, auditory processing and vestibular integration.
Most of us have heard the new CDC numbers that show Autism has a prevalence of in 1 in 68 children. This article from Autism Speaks reviews the methods used by the CDC, and why that number may actually be lower than reality.
There is a relatively new idea in Western science called “Embodied Cognition”. It purports the idea that the body and mind influence each other rather than the mind being separate from the body. As obvious as this is, I imagine it will take some time before it is generally recognized that the body and mind are, in large part, extensions of each other. The scientific community has already taken small steps in this direction, like the recognition that mindful meditation and exercise have a positive effect on the nervous system and mood.
This morning I was reading about the role facial expressions and body language affect how we both feel and interpret emotions. Often times psychologists will use facial cards to help children with AU or ASD to practice recognizing non verbal emotional cues. While this can be helpful it ignores a couple of things:
1) Can the child move their own facial muscles into recognizable emotions?
2) How does an emotion show itself through the whole body?
Being able to move facial muscles helps your body feel different emotions. Many kids I work with have the same expression for the six basic emotions. For example, disgust and anger look the same, as do surprise, scared and happy. To help kiddos expand their emotional vocabulary we work on expanding their physical vocabulary of facial and body expressions. Not only does this help them better recognize the emotions in others, but it also helps them improve their own personal emotional feedback.
Here are some links on the subject for those who are interested:
A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition:
A Set of Full Body Movement Features for Emotion Recognition to Help Children Affected By Autism Spectrum Disorder
Facial Expressions Control Emotions:
From the National Institute for Play – A really great breakdown of the different types of play, and how they impact and are an integral piece of development.
Among other benefits, exercise is associated with improvements in divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking “involves thinking of multiple solutions for one problem”, something that children with ASD often struggle with. Remember, exercise affects the body AND brain!
The Teaching Yoga for Children with Special Needs workshop incorporates yoga poses with developmental and neurological principles. The training will provide tools for teaching students with developmental disabilities including autism, ADD/ADHD, intellectual and learning disorders, as well as anxiety and depression. Presented in a movement-based hands on manner, come prepared to learn and have fun!
Who Should Attend
Anyone working with or interested in working with children with special needs including yoga teachers, educators, therapists and parents.
Day: Saturday, August 10th
Time: 10am – 1pm
Location: Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF) – Commons Room 4907 Garrett Rd Durham, NC 27707
Introduction: Developmental disabilities and their impact on movement, sensory systems and behavior.
Breath Work: Breathing techniques for children who don’t know how to use breath efficiently.
Asana: How to use asanas effectively for a specific effects (calming, exciting, partnering).
Class Structure:: How to design a class that works for students of varying needs.
Themes: Creating themed classes that will improve attention and focus
Games: Activities to help improve social skills and individual creativity.
Props: Using props to help improve body and breath awareness.
Relaxation: Methods for introducing relaxation techniques.
Caregiver Relations: How to set expectations and support parents/caregivers
Please wear clothes you can move comfortably in. Yoga mats will be provided.
Register by clicking here.
In the evenings, as bedtime draws near, transitioning from the activity of the day into a more relaxed state can sometimes be tough. The following relaxation tips for parents and a yoga flow for children can help improve bedtime readiness. Good night!
Unwind in the Evening -Strategies for Parents
Write down any stressful or persistent thoughts on a notepad, and then let them go from your mind. If you so choose, you can review them in the morning.
Begin an “I can” jar, filling it with positive thoughts. These may be anything that makes you smile or feel good about yourself. Choose two to read before bed.
Mentally review the day, taking note of good moments and pleasant events. Use these as a focal point to practice a mindful meditation on gratitude.
Read a calming book (one that takes little mental effort), to help relax your mind and prepare your body for sleep.
Choose three of your favorite relaxation yoga poses to practice before bed.
Nighty Night Yoga Flow for Children
1. Seated Criss Cross Applesauce
2. Hands in Namaste (Sukhasana and Anjali Mudra)
3. Breathe In and Open Arms Wide and Up to the Sky
4. Breathe Out and Return Hands to Namaste
5. Seated Forward Bend (Legs Crossed)
6. Seated Back Bend (Legs Crossed)
7. Lie down on your back and bring your Knees to your Chest (Apanasana)
8. Gently rock from side to side
9. Yawn and Stretch, straightening your legs and resting your arms by your side (Savasana)
10. Practice Toe Breathing -Place your hands on your child’s feet and let them know that if they breathe slowly and deeply you can feel it in their toes. Watch for their belly to rise and let them know you feel their toes breathing!
This morning I watched a TEDxYouth talk with Jill Bolte Taylor about what is happening in a teenage brain neurologically. She mentions how during adolescence about half of the neuronal synapses are pruned away . I’m pretty sure any parent of a teenager has experienced their kids behaving as if they’ve lost their minds. Which they have, literally!
While that was really fun and interesting to listen to, what I also enjoyed was her explanation of how our bodies and senses affect our responses to the world. As she puts it, “Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures who feel, biologically we really are feeling creatures who think. We are FEELING creatures who THINK”. As she goes on to explain, our responses to the world around us are organized first around feeling, and foremost is the feeling of safety. As we move through the day and our bodies organize everything into a sense of familiarity, of knowing what’s going on, we feel safe. This sense of safety provides a foundation from which positive interactions can occur.
This is hugely important to remember when observing children with developmental and learning delays. Simply put, most children (and adults) I work with are stressed. They’re in a physiological state of high alert. It’s observable through their breathing, their lack of attention or memory, their distress over transitions and many other things. They also, 99% of the time, are dealing with a problem with their sensory processing. As Dr Bolte Taylor points out, the two are indelibly linked. Now just imagine for a moment, how you would feel if you experienced touch or sounds as painful. Imagine if you couldn’t read facial cues or understand the emotional intent behind someone’s tone of voice. What if your balance system was faulty and you never felt stable? Would you still feel safe? Now go further and ask yourself, how would that affect your behavior? Would you behave appropriately, all the time?
I know I wouldn’t. I get cranky just because of how much sleep I’ve gotten the night before and how much coffee’s available in the morning (with three sons, a very loud cat and a new puppy, sleeping through the night is a luxury). That’s with a properly functioning sensory system. Luckily, I can access higher cortical control of my emotional responses. That means I can rationalize the reason my husband never gets up to let the cat out at night is not because he’s evil. It’s because he sleeps really heavily. This helps me calm myself down. I can plan ahead for a time when I might take a nap, which helps me cope with my frustration. I can also switch focus to a new thought rather than replaying same negative one over and over, which would increase my frustration. So when my husband comes into the kitchen I can greet him kindly instead of biting his head off.
Throughout this scenario, what came first were feelings. These feelings arose from my bodies state. Then came thought. My first thoughts interpreted how and why I felt the way I did. Second came rationalization and coping.
Believing that thinking comes before feeling is backwards. That’s a problem when adults are dealing with negative behaviors in children because they often become (understandably) distracted dealing with a behavior and miss important clues regarding the underlying issues causing the behavior in the first place. This is why working with the body to improve sensory processing makes such a big difference in behavior. Can cognitive interventions (like a behavior chart or a rewards system) help? Yes, for some people the structure (safety) they provide is beneficial in remediating some behaviors. But only using cognitive interventions and not working to improve the way the body, brain and senses function is not addressing the fundamental problem underlying behavior.
We all know that movement is crucial for a healthy body and mind. Designed to Move is a site that gives statistical data on the impact of a sedentary lifestyle on children. They also highlight companies that are trying to promote positive change.