This weekend I attended Level 1 of Spectrum Yoga run and developed by Sharon Manner and Margabandhu of Ashrams for Autism. This is yoga specifically adapted and designed for the challenges that face those on the Autism spectrum. This course is a 20 hour Continuing Education course through Samadhi Sun Teacher Training school. Teaching this community has become a passion and one that has been growing since childhood.
My history of working with autistic and other populations with learning differences is long and varied. In middle school, there was a special education teacher name Mrs. Kaplan in our school to help the students who were being mainstreamed. Twice a year or so, she would run trips to a school for children with Cerebral Palsy. I can still vividly picture making s’mores with the kids there, some my age, some probably much older. They had this awesome machine with a small bucket where we placed our marshmallows and then pushed a button. Slowly the bucket would turn over and dump the marshmallow on the graham cracker. A few seconds in the microwave and all of us were enjoying a gooey sticky mess!
After college, I was a substitute teachers’ aide at a school for children with varied and multiple learning disabilities. The children there range in age from 5-21. Each class had its quirks and there were a few times I did not feel able to handle certain situations. However, most of the time I spent there was a blast. Although I do understand how teachers can burn out so fast and become frustrated within the system.
Now I work for Ashrams for Autism. A lot of my work is behind the scenes, editing the training manuals and creating the newsletters. All of this I do to support and spread the word of this wonderful program. What I most love and look forward to are the classes I teach in schools and the community. I started teaching these classes a few months ago and never have I had such a goofy smile glued to my face for so long, or danced with such abandon in front of other people.
Sharon Manner, the founder of Ashrams, took me under her wing and helped me learn the structure of the classes through an apprenticeship of sort. I was honored to help out, but glad I got to finally attend the formal training to learn the more nuanced aspects of the program and where she hopes to take Ashrams in the future.
In the training we learned about diet and nutrition from a well-respected Integral Yoga teacher and master herbalist, Margabandhu, Director of Integral Yoga Institute in Fair Lawn NJ. Margabandhu has studied the effects of the diet on children on the spectrum. He shared his extensive knowledge with us and answered as many questions as time allowed.
There were also speakers there informing us on behavior and the current theories out there. We had time to speak with a teacher of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) learning style. The woman was kind and obviously had a wealth of knowledge and a depth of patience I can only hope to develop. It was interesting to learn, but at times rubbed me the wrong way. I have no doubt that ABA is a useful tool when working with children with learning differences. I am sure there are cases where it has worked wonders with children, where it has helped them grow a relationship with the world around them. I have difficultly believing that ABA is a cure-all. Nothing is a cure-all in education. What works for one may not work for the next. And speaking from my experience teaching in Namibia, this type of conditioned response has the tendency to stifle creativity. Children with autism can be as creative or possibly more creative than an average child, if given the chance.
The best part of the weekend had to be participating in a typical Spectrum Class. Sharon asked us all to channel our best autistic self and try to manage a class with all these different distractions, from our own bodies and mouths as well as from our neighbor. It was fun to see everyone get into their role and realize that deep down inside of us we all have these oddities that we have suppressed through years of being socially acceptable. I am by no means implying that we know or can know the deep frustration that those with learning disabilities face on a daily basis, however we are often too quick to separate ourselves from any similarities. I felt this was a golden exercise. It was heartwarming to see the level of compassion the exercise brought out.
Tomorrow I will post on why we bring yoga to children on the spectrum and how it helps. In the meantime, check out Ashrams for Autism for more information or if you would like to attend a future training. If you are in New Jersey and know someone who has a child with autism, direct them here for special parent workshops. Please feel free to post any questions or comments you have about the program and I will try to address them in future posts or through comment reply.