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5-Step Exercise Proven to Significantly Benefit Children with Autism

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Autism Exercise for Children

According to recently published research in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy by NYU Steinhardt scientists, a 5-step yoga exercise program significantly benefits autistic children in the classroom. This 5-step exercise program is part of a “Get Ready To Learn” (GRTL) intervention program designed by occupational therapist and yoga instructor Anne Buckley-Reen. The yoga-based GRTL program was created in 2008 and is available nationwide with a focus on students ages 5 through 21 who have significant disabilities in a learning environment.

According to a NYU press release, Reen explains that yoga can strengthen mind-body connections in autistic children.

“GRTL gets children out of the stressed state and prepares their brains and bodies to learn,” Reen explained. “Children with Autism often exhibit characteristics of ‘fight-or-flight’ response. They are in a constant state of stress and struggle with staying calm, trying to concentrate, communicating clearly, or even controlling their movements. Many students with ASD and other challenges have missed critical developmental stages which impact body awareness and perception of self. How can we expect these students to connect to others, if they are not connected to themselves? GRTL provides opportunities to make and strengthen these mind-body connections.”

ALSO SEE: An Autism Breakfast That Changed Mom’s Perspective: How an Unexpected Encounter Helped One Parent To Cope With Autism Stress.

The 5-step exercise can be performed in the classroom or at home and consists of:

Step one: Mats out

Step two: Breathe deep

Step three: Assume poses

Step four: Tense and relax muscles

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Step five: Sing.

While singing is not a typical part of yoga practice observed in adult yoga classes, its effect on children with autism is an added benefit of the exercise.

“This circle of song creates a vibrating of the lungs which helps students to find their voice and contribute to classroom harmony,” said Reen. “We sing the name of the students in back and forth exchanges. This encourages engagement from all students, even those with limited speech.”

One of the pluses of the 5-step exercise is that it can provide remarkable return for only a short daily investment of time for busy teachers and parents who have been trained in GRTL. A daily routine includes eight minutes of varied postures, three minutes of weight-bearing poses, three minutes of deep breathing to help reduce stress, three minutes of muscle tension and release, and concludes with a circle of song.

The authors of the paper titled “Efficacy of the Get Ready to Learn Yoga Program Among Children with ASD: A Pretest-Posttest Control Group Design,” discovered that implementing the yoga-based 5-step exercise for just 17 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 16 weeks significantly reduced aggressive behavior, hyperactivity and social withdrawal among autistic students in the New York school system.

“We found that teachers’ ratings of students who participated in the daily yoga routine showed improved behavior compared with teachers’ ratings of students who did not,” says Kristie Koenig, assistant professor of occupational therapy and lead author of the study. “Our aim in this research was to examine the effectiveness of an occupational therapy yoga intervention. Our research indicates that a manualized systemic yoga program, implemented on a daily basis, can be brought to public school classrooms as an option for improving classroom behavior.”

The researchers believe that their results demonstrate that the 5-step exercise helps prepare students mentally and physically at the beginning of a day of class through the use of yoga postures, breathing, and relaxation techniques to help energize, organize and calm students with autism spectrum disorders.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile


“Efficacy of The Get Ready To Learn Program amongst Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pretest- Posttest Control Group Design” American Journal of Occupational Therapy September 2012; Kristie Koenig, Ph.D. et al.

“Get Ready To Learn”—Yoga Therapy in the Classroom



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