posted 12-05-02


Yoga Helps Children with Special Needs

Some parents and professionals are looking to yoga as a healthy practice for children with a variety of special needs: mental, emotional and physical. According to The Orange County Register's Debbie Talanian, some say it helps break through barriers to concentration, learning and communicating.

The quality of life of special-needs children is sometimes compromised when vast amounts of time and energy are spent managing behavior, said Michelle Demes, a yoga therapist at Yoga for the Special Child, in Chicago. Demes was introduced to yoga two years ago when she came to the center seeking help for her daughter who has autism. Demes explained that children with autism often have difficulty getting in touch with their bodies.

"Some sensory things are blocking them from accepting their environment," she said."Yoga seems to be able to stimulate without causing more aggravation."
The after effects of yoga practice can include relaxation, concentration, an acute understanding of emotions, heightened awareness and learning, Demes explained.
Yoga may be defined as a cross-training tool for virtually all sports, and is moreover a total fitness package encompassing both aerobic and non-aerobic exercises.

Furthermore, the benefits of yoga extends far beyond athletic training as well. Through practices in precise breathing, strengthening, stretching, and endurance building, the entire body can become toned. Circulation can become stimulated and the mind can relax.

Yoga is helping improve the quality of life of children with Downs Syndrome, cerebral palsy, microcephaly, autism and attention deficit disorder, among other things, according to the Yoga for the Special Child website.

"You can calm their nervous system ... you need that first before you can have mental ability," Demes said, acknowledging that big changes often occur over time. Betsy Desimone, director of rehabilitation services at Orange County's Children's Hospital in California, suggested the key is often integrating yoga into the physical, occupational and speech-therapy programs of some patients. With their doctors' consent, children with cancer, brain and spinal-cord injuries have participated in yoga at CHOC.

"There's a lot of support from the physicians," Desimone said. "They see it as a huge benefit. [It] becomes another approach in the repertoire. It's not always medication that's going to make the difference."

"I'm not saying this is a cure for autism," a second mother said. "But it's something that she gets benefit from."

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