When I began to teach yoga classes for children some of the calls that came in began to take on a similar pattern. After I explained the time, location and cost of class, the caller paused, waiting to tell me something about their child. I knew what was coming. The concerned parent was going to tell me about a “special need” her child was suspected of having, or had been diagnosed with. The range of “special needs” was extensive. Tactile dysfunction, proprioception disorders, vestibular dysfunction (possibly related to ear infections), brain damage, auditory processing difficulties, heightened sensory perception, autism spectrum disorders, childhood anxiety, ADD/ADHD or maybe something new to me. Often, a mix of two or three of these was discussed.
If a child had been diagnosed, the services available may be limited. Sometimes children would not or could not be included in traditional activities at the local gyms or karate studios. Sometimes these programs and the teachers were so geared to normally developing children they were not helpful or problematic. Always the parent, usually the mother, was searching for something they could not put their finger on. They wanted a program their child could be nurtured in and have some personal attention. They wanted a place where their child’s disability was recognized but not obsessed over or overly focused on. Of course they wanted the child to have fun but at the same time should not be over stimulated.
Lifespan Yoga is perfect.
My classes quickly became very inclusive. If you looked in the window you would never know there were children with all sorts of special needs practicing yoga. It looked like any children’s program with exercises, music, snacks, art, craft projects and the ubiquitous treasure box. There were plenty of normally developing children. No one knew anything about any other child’s history. Not the other yoga students, not the other parents.
As a yoga teacher it is important to be aware of possible abnormalities in “normal” and undiagnosed students too. Often children with special needs are not diagnosed or labeled for years. This does not mean they are developing normally. This can simply be a matter of finances (diagnosed children are eligible for many expensive health and education services some schools and organizations may not wish to pay for). Some professionals know a child has special needs but will put off labeling and wait to see if the child will “grow out of it.”
All yoga teachers planning to teach children should pursue continuing education about as many special needs as possible. The availability and expense of quality continuing education in special developmental needs for children is very limited in the yoga world. I recommend local colleges for continuing education, as they will most likely provide the most current information and current research in the area of special needs. It is very inexpensive to take a course at the community college and many are offered online. I cover special needs in all of my teacher certification programs, but this is rare.
As yoga teachers, we meet the student where they are, even those students with special needs. Yoga education and research has not even begun to dive into this rich area of potential healing for children and families. My experience tells me yoga, safely and consciously taught, is more than a fun, inclusive activity for children with special conditions. It is a practice with great healing potential for the whole family and we have not even scratched the surface of what we can do.