As we come to the end of Autism awareness month, I am very aware of all the information and advice that has been swirling around the children’s yoga world talking about how to support students on the spectrum. There has been some really wonderful sharing happening, but I want to take a moment to remind us as a community of how important it is to embrace every child as an individual. See the soul and not the story, as Seane Corn often says.
In my work with many different children, I have seen how easy it can be to start thinking “this kid has such and such disorder so I’m going to do this with him” or “I can’t do that with this child since she has a developmental delay”. We do, of course, have to be aware of the challenges our students face, and adjust our plans and our expectations accordingly, but often I think we can fall into a trap of habitually teaching to the disorder. This limits our creativity and our ability to show the child all that is possible.
In my teaching I always try to remember that all children have special needs, not just the one’s whose needs are most visible. Children’s challenges, whether they are physical, mental or emotional, are part of what make them who they are, but they are not the only part. Just as adults struggle with all sorts of things, but don’t want those struggles to define how they are treated and what people think of them, children are much more then their struggles. If in our teaching, we allow ourselves to become distracted from the child by the challenge, then we run the risk of contributing to that child’s inability to appreciate him or herself as an amazing and unique individual.
Whether a child has cerebral palsy, or is on the autism spectrum, or is struggling with her parent’s divorce, or is having a hard time controlling his anger, or is just overwhelmed with the pressure and expectations of high achieving parents, our job is the same. We work to make sure all children learn to see and appreciate the part of themselves that has nothing to do with the things that are hard; we work to make sure every child is aware of their potential.
Our primary goal is to help children live their lives with joy, secure in the knowledge that the world holds great wonders for them and that they have great gifts to share with the world.
Keeping this in mind, here are some guidelines to be aware of in your work with all of our very special children.
There are dozens of potential uses for a singing bowl in a children’s yoga class, but the one that is the most potent is also the absolute simplest. The activity described below has a unique way of engaging children’s cooperation in the exact manner that you hope, while at the same time showing a profound respect for their independence.
At the beginning of every class, no matter how many routines you develop or guidelines you give your kids, there is a certain amount of noise, movement, conversation and other distraction that is a natural part of the transitions that children go through during their day. Sometimes there is complete chaos that threatens your ability to start your class in the peaceful, centered and happy state of mind that every yoga instructor hopes for.
This point of transition, where you set the tone for the entire experience that both you and your students are about to have, is a particularly challenging one to navigate. You must bring all of your students attention together at the same time, there is often noise so if the kids are going to hear you it might mean raising your voice, and all of the conversation that your students are having with each other are compelling to them and they are going to need some pretty good motivation to wrap them up. This can lead to frustration on the part of the teacher, and a gradual escalation of your voice until you are actually yelling at your students before you have even started your class.
There is a better way...