October 13, 2012
When I listen to parents of young children (under 5) in my behavioral pediatrics practice, they often describe a child who is very overwhelmed by sensory input, inflexible and easily dysregulated. They worry that their child is "on the spectrum."
We talk about how their child does not feel calm in his body, and work together to help him find ways to feel calm. With this approach, there can be significant improvement in behavior.
Thus I was pleased, though not surprised, to learn of two studies validating this approach in children who have been diagnosed with autism. One, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, demonstrated that a 17 minute yoga program, called "Get Ready to Learn," significantly decreased anxiety, social withdrawal and aggression.
The second, published last year in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated significant improvement in core features of autism in a group of children age 3-16 who participated in an 8 week multimodal yoga, dance and music therapy program.
In a related story, this morning on NPR's Only a Game, a program entitled Does Exercise Help Kids Learn? referred to the research of neurologist Majid Fotuhi showing that exercise improves learning efficiency. He stated:
"I am also in favor of shorter teaching sessions which are intermittent with 20 minutes of P.E. or some kind of physical activity that’s somewhat structured. In a previous post, I refer to psychiatrist Bruce Perry, whose neurosequential model of therapeutics, primarily applied to work with traumatized children, uses self regulating activities interspersed between both learning and therapy."
"Often when kids are struggling in school, teachers express concern that they are "over-scheduled." But if extracurricular activities are carefully planned and well thought out, they can be considered an essential part of treatment. It is best to have some kind of a calming activity interspersed with homework, tutoring or therapy. These can be tailored to a child's particular talents and interests."
Whether a child has symptoms associated with autism, has experienced trauma, or is struggling to learn, promoting self-regulation by using the body to help the brain is important. If we can incorporate this approach into treatment and education of young children, we will support healthy development of regulation of emotion, attention and behavior, perhaps even avoiding the need to label them with a disorder.
About Dr. Claudia M. Gold
Dr. Gold is a pediatrician with a long-standing interest in addressing children’s mental health needs in a preventive model. Currently, she runs the Early Childhood Social-Emotional Health program at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Prior to this, she practiced general pediatrics for 20 years.
Gold is a graduate of the UMass Boston Infant-Parent Mental Health Post-Graduate Certificate Program, and she is on the faculty of the Brazelton Institute and the Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute.
She is the author of Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World through Your Child’s Eyes, and writes regularly for her blog, Child in Mind, on the Boston.com website