Seattle Kids Yoga


Yoga for Kids with Special Needs: My Story

I began teaching yoga to children with special needs -- most had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder -- in 2002. I was a new occupational therapist and working at a Special Education Collaborative north of Boston.

In addition to being a new OT, I was also a newish yoga student myself. After taking a few classes in college and practicing with a VHS tape (it was a really good one!), I found a consistent personal practice around this time. So, without any formal kids yoga training, I used my OT knowledge, the kids’ interests and what I was learning from my personal practice to teach. Back then, I didn’t even know that Kids Yoga Teacher Trainings existed.

It was all about connection, observation and pausing when I wasn’t sure -- which is pretty much still how I teach today.

Classes in those early days were a combination of Eric Carle books (I read “Rooster’s Off to See the World” at least 150 times because change is hard and repetition is good), Boardmaker visuals and velcro, and following the children’s lead. I learned so much about how to teach, what to teach and why Yoga is beneficial. I witnessed kids who were typically overstimulated, experience a sense of calm. Speech sounds were developed and strengthened through making animal noises, and fine and gross motor skills were addressed in new and fun ways. Kids who preferred to play alone, became engaged in parallel play as a community. Midlines were crossed and body awareness was increased.

This all occurred in 20-30 minute classes, with smiles and laughter, through the power of yoga.

So, over 15 years ago, I fell in love with this practice for myself and for the potential it has to inspire and empower all kids, but especially for those with special needs. In upcoming blogs I’ll be sharing teaching tips, prop suggestions, behavioral management strategies, breaking down sensory integration and more. My intention is to provide practical information for how to share yoga with children with special needs, so if there’s a topic you’d like me to cover or a question that you have, comment below or email me.

Yoga for children with special needs fills my heart and I hope you receive something from these words that fills yours.

xo, Nicole