Yoga and autism : the effectiveness of a year-long yoga programme, its influence on physicality, communication, organisational skills and mood in a small group of school-age pupils

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


There are many informative books on the practice of yoga suggesting that yoga can bring benefits to the well-being of people on the autistic spectrum (Betts et al 2006, Cuomo 2007, Williams 2010, Goldberg 2013, Thornton-Hardy 2015).There is less empirical evidence to back up the claims made in these books. This longitudinal study observed six residential pupils, aged eleven to seventeen, with profound autism and accompanying learning difficulties, participating in a thirty minute yoga programme which was conducted four days a week for one year in a comfortable, quiet environment. Its purpose was to ascertain if yoga could influence physicality, communication, attention, motor planning, organisation and mood and if this was positive could the changes be sustained and generalised into daily activities.;After baseline information was gathered, data was collected using a variety of specially designed forms. The Researcher led each session, modelling the poses and observing the pupils as they copied her. Data was also collected from the Education Team and Support Workers with parents contributing to the data collection each time they visited school or when the pupils went home. Using a descriptive case study approach, the data followed the progress of each pupil during yoga and for two hours after yoga, plotting changes over the year. The data was analysed qualitatively and where appropriate, quantitatively.;Results showed that pupils increased in flexibility and strength, improved their balance, bilateral integration and symmetry. An increase in the pupils` use of appropriate short phrases was noted, episodes of joint attention increased as did use of greetings and one pupil began vocalising intentionally. The data showed a small increase in attention, motor planning and organisational skills out with yoga, indicating some generalisation had taken place. By the end of the programme, the pupils appeared less anxious and stressed and more confident. A striking result was a 'stillness' which replaced constant fidgeting by the pupils.;This study suggests reasons why yoga is a positive intervention in autism and adds weight to the positive results of the other existing studies. The consistent practice of asanas allows flexibility to develop and the improvement in bilateral integration allows symmetry to increase. The asanas seem to calm a stressed nervous system allowing a `stillness` to evolve, making listening and concentration easier to achieve and maintain. This could lead to the pupils being more ready to learn. Autism appears amenable to this kind of intervention and yoga may prove to be an important tool in our autism tool kit.
Date of Award20 Sep 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorHelen Marwick (Supervisor) & Vivienne Smith (Supervisor)

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