International Meeting for Autism Research: Yoga and Autism

Yoga and Autism

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
11:00 AM
L. S. Nicholls, Support for Learning, National Autistic Society, Catrine, East Ayrshire, United Kingdom
Background:  The practice of Yoga in neurotypical children has shown an increase in engagement in classroom situations (McIntyre et al 2003; Jones et al 2007; Schiffmann 1996).  In October 2009 a Scottish Government initiative funded a project to bring yoga to 15 schools in Glasgow.  Anecdotal reports indicate improvement in concentration and self discipline.  The ‘Juniper Programme’ (Keith 2000), which included Yoga, evidenced increased calm and self-confidence among participants. 

Work in America shows that similar results can be gathered from Programmes of Yoga with children on the autistic spectrum (Cuomo 2007; Goldberg 2006; Betts 2006).  A study in India also showed Yoga can increase imitation and social communicative behaviour in children with ASD (Radhakrishna 2010).

Objectives:  What effects does a short Yoga Programme, delivered on a regular basis, have on the presentation of a small group of young people on the autistic spectrum?

Methods:  There is still limited research validating the use of Yoga and autism.  Using a case study approach, this study involved 6 participants, aged between 11 and 19, who participated in 20-minute sessions of Yoga 4 days a week for one year, lead by the Researcher.  Research questions included:

  • How do the participants engage in the programme?
  • Any change in physicality?
  • Any change in social communication?

Data was gathered from:

  • Researcher
  • Classroom Teachers
  • Practitioners working 1:1 with the pupils
  • Parents


Participant 1:

  • 16 years
  • Little body awareness
  • Echolalia/delayed echolalia with use of 3-word sentences
  • Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scale (VABS) = 3.3 years
  • Increased:
    • Flexibility in movement
    • Agility
    • Joint attention skills and gained stillness
  • Spontaneously greeting
  • Verbalises associated memories

 Participant 2:

  • 14 years
  • Comprehension limited to routine
  • Can express basic needs
  • Uses 2-3 word sentences
  • VABS = 3.9 years
  • Increased:
    • Length of utterance and expressive language is clearer
    • Joint attention

Participant 3:

  • 11 years
  • Used to being on her own agenda
  • Uses a great deal of video-speak
  • VABS = 3 years
  • Increased listening skills
  • More able to take instruction and stay on task

Participant 4:

  • 15 years
  • Little body awareness
  • Non-verbal
  • VABS = 2.7 years
  • Increased:
    • Flexibility of movement and much more agile
    • Stillness
    • Appropriate vocalisation

Participant 5:

  • 18 years
  • Prone to extreme mood shift – Catatonic to manic
  • VABS = 5.9 years
  • Increased
    • Stillness
    • Body awareness
  • Calming Yoga poses seem to settle him when he is hyperactive

Participant 6:

  • 19 years
  • Displays Tourette-like involuntary movements
  • Uses a great many learned, stereotypical phrases inappropriately
  • VABS = 9 years
  • When doing the asanas, he is quite still and focussed
  • Increased body awareness
  • Appears less agitated for up to one hour after Yoga

Conclusions:  First results are indicating that a structured, regularly practised Yoga programme will promote social interaction and communication, self-confidence and increased agility.

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