Improve Motor and Imitation Skills in Children with Autism with Yoga
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“children with autism, specifically, respond very positively to regular yoga practice. Some of the encouraging physical benefits of yoga include increased strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. But there are more subtle gains as well: increased social-emotional skills, body awareness, self-regulation, focus and concentration are benefits as well!” – Rachel Costello
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that tends to appear during early childhood and affect the individual throughout their lifetime. It affects a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others, delays learning of language, makes eye contact or holding a conversation difficult, impairs reasoning and planning, narrows and intensifies interests, produces poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities, and is frequently associated with sleep and gastrointestinal problems. It is currently estimated that over 1% of the world population has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Treatment is generally directed at symptoms and can include behavioral therapies, exercises and drug treatments. Clearly, there is a need for effective alternative treatment options. A promising treatment is mindfulness training. It has been shown to be helpful in treating ASD. A characterizing feature of ASD is dysfunction in motor behavior. Since yoga is both a mindfulness practice and an exercise it is reasonable to examine the ability of yoga to improve the motor behavior of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
In today’s Research News article “Creative Yoga Intervention Improves Motor and Imitation Skills of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7325451/ ) Kaur and Bhat recruited children between the ages of 5 and 13 years who were diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They were randomly assigned to receive 8 weeks of 2 sessions per week of 45 minutes led by a physical therapist and 2 sessions per week of 25 minutes led at home by parents of either yoga or sedentary academic activities such as reading and arts and crafts. They were measured before and after training for motor ability and imitation. For the yoga group was imitation was measured as the accuracy of trained yoga postures while for the academic group imitation was measured as the accuracy for performing some simple tasks such as rolling, pinching, pushing, and pulling using building materials such as Play-Doh.
They found in comparison to baseline that the children in the yoga group had significant improvements in gross motor ability while the academic group had significant improvements in fine motor ability. Both groups had significant reductions in imitation errors. These findings suggest that children with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) benefit from either yoga or academic practice with both improving imitation but with yoga improving gross motor movements while academic training improved fine motor movements.
Inactivity and problems with motor ability are characteristic of children with ASD, and these impairments are associated with social and behavioral problems. The results suggest that these children would benefit by practicing both yoga and academic skills. The improved motor ability is postulated to be translated in better social interactions and lower levels of behavioral issues. It remains for future research to investigate this speculation.
So, improve motor and imitation skills in children with autism with yoga.
‘creative movement interventions utilizing music and yoga should be an essential part of the standard of care for children with ASD.” – Kaur & Bhat
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Kaur, M., & Bhat, A. (2019). Creative Yoga Intervention Improves Motor and Imitation Skills of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Physical therapy, 99(11), 1520–1534. https://doi.org/10.1093/ptj/pzz115
There is growing evidence for motor impairments in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including poor gross and fine motor performance, poor balance, and incoordination. However, there is limited evidence on the effects of motor interventions for this population.
In the present study, the effects of a physical therapy intervention using creative yoga on the motor and imitation skills of children with ASD were evaluated.
This study had a pretest-posttest control group design.
Twenty-four children with ASD aged between 5 and 13 years received 8 weeks of a physical therapist-delivered yoga or academic intervention. Children were tested before and after the intervention using a standardized motor measure, the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Performance–2nd Edition (BOT-2). The imitation skills of children using familiar training-specific actions (ie, poses for the yoga group and building actions for the academic group) were also assessed.
After the intervention, children in the yoga group improved gross motor performance on the BOT-2 and displayed fewer imitation/praxis errors when copying training-specific yoga poses. In contrast, children in the academic group improved their fine motor performance on the BOT-2 and performed fewer imitation errors while completing the training-specific building actions.
The study limitations include small sample size and lack of long-term follow-up.
Overall, creative interventions, such as yoga, are promising tools for enhancing the motor and imitation skills of children with ASD.