Special Needs Yoga for Children

In December I had the up-most honor of meeting and training under Shawnee Thornton Hardy, creator of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs, here in Dallas, which is a blessing in and of itself.  I had read her book through my children’s yoga teacher training and was just enamored with both her passion and the scientific and behavioral basis in which she wrote it and created the C.A.L.M.M. curriculum for children with Autism and special needs.  I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to meeting authors and the like, so embarrassing to say, yes, but I was a bit star-struck the first day sitting next to her, talking, meditating, learning, and doing…

The whole gang with me on the far left, Shawnee in the middle. It was a truly amazing opportunity to be able to train with these amazing women near my home!

Shawnee took the time to do something that many may have hinted at or thought, hmm, this could work, into a real-life, easily adaptable curriculum for parents, caretakers, and teachers of children with special needs.  Many of the challenges children with special needs face include anxiety (this is all children these days), difficulty expressing themselves or their emotions, limited body awareness and delayed motor skills, and difficulty with attention, to list a few.  Shawnee took this list of challenges and put it up against the benefits of yoga – improved motor skills, increased strength and flexibility, improved focus and attention – the list goes on (and anyone that has practiced yoga on any kind of regular schedule knows what I am speaking to).  It was an ah-ha moment and I love her because she took that leap of faith and went for it, creating a curriculum to address these challenges with the benefits of yoga and focused breathing.  Then, she took it a step further, writing a book on how-to and creating a toolkit that is easy to use (for any and all abilities) and follows her curriculum.  Oh, and then she travels around the country (and beyond now!) to teach and certify you on using her program – all while raising a family and keeping up her own private practice and yoga therapy business – AMAZING.

C.A.L.M.M. toolkit created by Shawnee Thornton Hardy and available on her website.

Taking her training not only provided me with invaluable tools and information, but also made me take a step back and watch my own children’s behavior.  Shawnee truly believes that there are no bad children, and I think she is on to something…

My stepson, who does pretty well in school was bombing math, which happens to be his favorite subject.  He is ADHD and dyslexic and as such, per his accommodations, he goes to tutoring in the mornings twice a week to make sure he is up to date on his assignments and sits in the front row of class.  After having what one might call, a come to Jesus with him, me, my husband, and his mother on the phone, we FINALLY peeled back all the layers and excuses to find that he is basically shutting down in class because the teacher blocks the board when he writes or stands right in front of him such that he is so overwhelmed he, as you can guess, shuts down.  It had nothing to do with the fact that he didn’t want to do his work or was being defiant, he literally was shutting down because he was so overwhelmed, then frustrated, and, at 12-years old and the throws of middle school, didn’t know how to express this to his teacher, or us, initially.  I had my husband, or I threatened to go myself, go with him to tutoring to talk to the teacher and observe first hand what was going on.  Then, when my husband spoke with the teacher nothing would get lost in translation over email and phone calls.  And then the other layers came off… a VERY busy teacher, only about 10 to 15 minutes to review, papers and kids everywhere, not a moment for individual instruction…

We don’t blame the teacher, its just the situation, and going to public school you can be a bit of a slave to the system.  But that amount of insight was all we needed to confirm what he had told us and take a WHOLE NEW perspective as to what the heck was going on and how we can now help him, in this situation, adapt and thrive – moving him back one row, changing sides of the room, to name a few quick fixes.  Would we have come to that conclusion without me going to training? Maybe, maybe not.  But I would like to think that I, after training with Shawnee, was more in tune with the why and not the “bad” behavior itself.  I took a moment and stepped back – why is he acting like this, what is he trying to ask for?  And suddenly the “bad” behavior became a need that was not being met.  It’s amazing and somewhat liberating.  Try it!

My little “flying buddy” – during training we practiced belly breathing with our animal friends and their magic carpets, taking them on a magic carpet ride!

As I continue my training and mentorship with Shawnee working here locally with several children, I can’t wait to learn and explore more and see where it is I can plug myself in.  If you are interested in Shawnee’s program, you can visit her website here or please feel free to contact me for support, questions, tools, or conversation!  I am always happy to share!

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