As kids’ yoga teachers, we love the idea of harmony and inclusion, don’t we? And yet, if we are deeply honest, we can have a little fear in our hearts when it comes to including kids with disabilities or special needs in our kids’ yoga classes.
Like most of our fears, this is rooted in the unknown or lack of control. However, with the right attitude and a few adjustments, kids with disabilities can be as much a part of your group as anyone!
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Kids with disabilities or special needs are KIDS first! This means they are more like other kids than they are different. They will (most likely) like to play, sing, make friends, have fun. When we see the commonalities, they outshine the differences.
- Keep an open line of communication. Kids with disabilities and their parents and caregivers (i.e. teachers, assistants, 1:1 workers) are great resources! Ask a lot of questions. Find out what supports this child in their life off the mat and look for ways to include those same strategies in the yoga class. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re new to working with a certain condition or need. Be curious and open to learning.
- Remember that every child is unique! Just because you’ve worked with other kids with autism or Down syndrome (or other diagnosis) doesn’t mean you know everything you need to know about THIS child. Sometimes we have stereotypes about certain kinds of disabilities (i.e. kids with Down syndrome are always happy). These stereotypes can stop us from getting to know each kid as an individual.
- Be persistent. If one method doesn’t reach a child, continue to use your creativity until you can connect with your student. Some kids will benefit from being taught auditorily, Some will benefit from visual demonstration. Some will need physical help to learn, i.e. being guided into a pose with assistance. (Always obtain the child’s permission/consent for physical assistance. Use proper COVID protocols currently.) Most of us learn with a combination of styles.
- Watch how the typically developing students interact with the child with special needs. Sometimes our students are our best teachers! Observe what makes your student laugh, engage, and listen as well as withdraw or disengage.
- Avoid deciding what your student with a disability can and can’t do. Give them the same directives you give other kids, then provide additional support as needed. Maybe a student with Cerebral Palsy or motor planning challenges will need an assistant to help them spread their arms wide in Warrior 2. Maybe a child with autism or who is Deaf will benefit from looking at a pose card.
- Invest in your own learning. There is so much good stuff out there on how to work with kids with disabilities and special needs in yoga. We love Louise Goldberg’s Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs) and Shawnee Thornton Hardy’s Asanas for Autism and Special Needs and amazing prop kit. Organizations like Mind Body Solutions (Matthew Sanford) and Accessible Yoga (Jivana Heyman) are doing important work to make the yoga mat more inclusive. And Next Generation Yoga has its very own program, designed for the intersection of inclusive yoga and kids yoga: Yoga + Mindfulness for Disabilities + Differences. We hope you will join us for our upcoming training. As you learn, you become part of the movement to make kids yoga inclusive for all kids!
- Remember, it’s always yoga practice, never yoga perfect. Some days we will feel awesome about the way we teach our kids. Other days, it will feel like a swing and a miss. This is normal to feel when teaching kids with disabilities, too. Sometimes you’ll try something and it isn’t quite right. But don’t give up! Trust your training as a teacher, trust your intuition, trust your heart for all kids, and trust that the connection with your students IS there. We belong to each other, and yoga reminds us this is true.*
*This article originally appeared on the Accessible Yoga blog http://accessibleyoga.blogspot.com/search?q=Sarah+Henderson
Meet NGY Director of Curriculum & Communication, Sarah Henderson
Sarah Henderson personifies the Next Generation Yoga philosophy with her big heart, youthful spirit and fun, creative nature. She authors new NGY Lesson Plans and keeps us all up to date on the latest and greatest in the world of Kids Yoga as our social media guru. Sarah is passionate about teaching kids of all ages and abilities to connect with themselves and others through movement and meditation. Learn more about Sarah here!