What a stack of pancakes taught me about teaching yoga for people with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, by Sarah Henderson


It was my sister’s 40th birthday so we planned a girls morning out…brunch and pedicures to celebrate.


We went to a local pancake place. I ordered eggs and gluten free pancakes. She ordered a short stack. I mentioned to the server that it was sister’s 40th birthday. Cause that’s what you do for people that you love.


When our breakfast came, my sister’s pancakes were shaped like Mickey Mouse, had whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles and chocolate sauce. What?


Why had the server decided that Mickey Mouse, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sauce pancakes were the appropriate upgrade for my sister’s 40th birthday?


I suspect it had something to do with her Down syndrome.


I know they were trying to be sweet. I know that they meant well. I for sure know that my sister loved every bite.


But I was uncomfortable with their assumptions. And here is why…


My sister is a grown woman and we were celebrating a milestone…40 years old! When I turned 40, my family and friends threw a lovely dinner party with adult beverages. Never once do I suspect they thought about serving juice boxes or having a bouncy house.


With the information that it was her 40th birthday, the restaurant staff saw her Down syndrome and decided to celebrate her like they would an 8 year old.


Again, please hear me. I understand there was kindness that motivated it.


But she ordered a short stack, not a sugar fest. With the best intentions I am sure, the server highlighted my sister’s disability and treated her like a kid.


When teaching yoga for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, my desire is to always teach the person first and make accommodations for their disabilities second.


When teaching kids, we might make accommodations like letting a child in a motorized wheelchair be the engine as we become a train together during the NGY Lesson Plan, Affirmation Station


Or we might invite children to be either standing or sitting trees as we become Cypress trees in the New Orleans bayou in Silly Swamp.


When teaching teens and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I use a lot of my skills as a kids yoga teacher to meet them where they are at developmentally, but I also work hard to meet them where they are at chronologically.


I often use things like children’s literature or props in my classes with these older students as a way to bridge more complicated yoga concepts. Lately I have been teaching the Yamas (some of yoga’s philosophical guidelines) using a great book from Todd Parr or Susan Verde or other incredible children’s authors to help frame my dharma talks with them. 


I also use things like a Hoberman sphere to teach belly breath and Meddy Teddy to show different poses, where I will add Sanskrit pose names or mantras about self worth, practices that are age appropriate.


Being a kids yoga teacher has taught me to be creative, spontaneous, connected, and communicative. All of those are important skills I use teaching kids, teens, and young adults with disabilities. With all of them, I try to remember, it is our commonalities that connect us, not our differences.


Want to learn how to share yoga + mindfulness practices with children, teens, and young adults with disabilities + differences in your community? Join us for our upcoming training. More info here



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!



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