When an unresponsive child eventually steps forward to show you that they want to do a yoga posture, know how to do it, can speak their first ever word and can finish the line of a song for the first time in their nine-year-old life, it feels like the icing on the cake.
But getting to that point is far from easy. I have been teaching yoga to children with autism in special schools for 13 years and there are certainly difficult moments. But if you are engaging the children - even as a non-specialist yoga teacher - you will get your slice of success.
The solution is to be highly structured. I have children sitting on chairs in a circle and use a visual timetable with posture cards to keep my verbal input minimal. Then I target several areas simultaneously.
The most important is engagement and I have a plateful of tactics - for example, encouraging children to choose from posture cards that are hanging from an umbrella or having a child emerge from behind a portable curtain singing a song,
Fun is also key. A child eagerly gets out of their chair and into the posture because it is fun; and if it continues to be fun, they want to stay in the posture. Repetition of postures over the weeks helps a child to become more at ease, more confident and more skilled, which is often reflected in their other lessons.
Simple social skills such as waiting, listening, speaking, helping each other, taking turns and following rules are also important - although it is usually the benefits to their fitness, flexibility and coordination that attracts the media's attention.
But for me, the most exciting element is the benefit to a unique layer of their sensory systems. The vestibular system tells the brain when we are moving or still and the proprioceptive system is our unconscious awareness of our body's position. The combination gives us vital information about movement and spatial awareness, but in pupils with special educational needs (SEN) these systems are often dysfunctional. Yoga, however, can help to regulate them.
SEN yoga teaching is really very far from being a piece of cake. But armed with the right teaching, books and skills, teachers should not be frightened of attempting it. The benefits to the children are immense.
Michael Chissick runs teacher training for children's yoga. Details can be found at www.yogaatschool.org.uk. His book, Frog's Breathtaking Speech, illustrated by Sarah Peacock, is published by Singing Dragon
Get children engaged in yoga with sunterra's teaching guide.
Tell a story through yoga and movement with alpho8550's scheme of work that covers Reception through to Year 2 and offers an exciting approach to the relaxation technique.
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