Want a quick way to help your special needs students achieve a more calm, relaxed, focused state? I have been using this routine in my school to provide a sensory break for students with high functioning autism.
The routine consists of using the “My First Yoga” app, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-first-yoga-animal-poses/id365336362?mt=8. It is a fabulous, simple, low-language app, that provides step-by-step instructions for 12 yoga poses. I integrate deep sensory pressure into the routine so that the student is receiving deep pressure while stretching in the poses. The animal cartoons are engaging and the student I work with finds it rewarding to be able to use the iPhone or iPad touch to “turn the page to the next pose.”
- Select a quiet, calm environment with enough space to practice the pose.
- Dim the lights if possible.
- Minimize distractions, have few materials, or cover them during the practice.
- Have a yoga mat or carpet square or some other material that defines the practice space.
- Speak using a soft, gentle voice with a slow, steady pace.
- Make sure your energy is calm, centered, and relaxed before working with the student.
- Be focused on your goal and do not deviate regardless of student response/ behavior.
- Follow-through with directives and rewards, be consistent and provide immediate feedback.
- Move in a relaxed, slow, steady manner. Make sure your movements are slow and predictable, and follow the routine.
- Consider your student’s needs and preferences and make sure you are incorporating it into your routine/practice. Always consult with other professionals in your building, such as the occupational therapist to make sure that the sensory input you are providing is aligned with what each student needs.
Establish a routine that is repeated each time you provide the sensory break. For example, every day when the student enters my office, I ask “What are you working for?” and have a choice of 2 rewarding items (in his case it is books to look at). Once he chooses the reward, I state simply, “first stretching, then book (insert title). Next, we begin the “My First Yoga” app yoga pose sequence. I make sure to not deviate from the routine unless absolutely necessary. Since his proprioceptive sense is very low, I help him into the poses, using what I call “hand over hand” yoga support. I gently help his arms flap to the flamingo pose or his legs move up and down in the butterfly pose. Over time he has learned to do the poses on his own, but it has taken months of repetition and helping him move his body to approximate the pose for him to understand how to position himself in the pose. I make sure that I use the same instructions each day, keeping my verbalizations minimal and use a calm, soothing, tone. During the app, I integrate deep pressure. For example, while doing snake pose, I apply gentle steady pressure to his back and shoulders. In lady bug pose, I “put on his ladybug spots” by gently pressing a “spot” one at a time on his back using the palm of my hand. After 4-5 spots, we move on to the next pose. During butterfly pose, I gently press down upon his shoulders, always asking for his feedback as to how it feels and watching for his nonverbal communication signs that it is increasing calm or causing increased anxiety or stress. I do all of the poses for/with him until he shows that he knows the sequence and has begun to do it independently. When he shows independence in a pose, then I do the pose along with him to provide a visual mirror for him while he is doing it.
Being flexible and staying in tune with the students’ needs/energy, while maintaining routine is key to achieving the outcome of a calm, relaxed state.