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How inclusion and yoga is helping students with autism in Hanover

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- There are six children with autism attending Kersey Creek Elementary School in Hanover. Principal Lisa Thompson made it a priority to create an environment where all of her students could grow academically, functionally, and socially, regardless of abilities or disabilities.

"When I started here, the kids were spending most of the time in their special education classroom," Ms. Thompson said. "I knew immediately that we wanted to change that."

Kersey Creek Elementary Principal Lisa Thompson

Kersey Creek Elementary Principal Lisa Thompson

The students participate in an extensive autism program.

The focus on inclusion does not just mean placing children with special needs into a general education classroom. It is a mind shift in how the school’s other students and staff support and instruct all children.

Inclusive education benefits all children, Special Education teacher Megan Astrouski said. She said it it creates an environment where students feel as if they’re part of the school community.

"Our kids deserve the same education," Ms. Astrouski said. "Our kids deserve the same treatment in the school community."

Special Education teacher Megan Astrouski

Special Education teacher Megan Astrouski

Astrouski and her three dedicated assistants believe that just because a student learns differently, communicates differently, or has different sensory needs; it does not mean they are less. Because many children with autism do have sensory needs, the program has incorporated yoga as a daily part of their routine.

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"You and I have a lot of ways we can calm our bodies," Austrouski said. "Tapping our foot; some of us like snapping our fingers; crack our knuckles.  Our kids have a very hard time regulating their bodies."

The Yoga program is part of Get Ready to Learn (GRTL), an evidence-based program founded by Anne Buckley-Reen.  Astrouski said she uses the program to help students with autism self-regulate.

Children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder struggle with self-regulation.

Yoga can help them become more alert, improve coordination and center the body.

It manifests their ability to sustain task performance in a calm state.

The sequence of postures helps organize and prepare their brain and body for the activities of the day and helps replace negative states (anger, anxiousness, fear) with ready ones (calmness, alertness).

Ms. Thompson said it definitely helped and was a key component to making the inclusive school community theme work.

"All people are imperfect”, says Ms. Thomson. “All people are different.  And success is differently defined for every child."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no known single cause of autism.

The prevalence of autism has risen to one in every 68 births in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms:

People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.

Children or adults with ASD might:

not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)

not look at objects when another person points at them

have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all

avoid eye contact and want to be alone

have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings

prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to

appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds

be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them

repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language

have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions

not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)

repeat actions over and over again

have trouble adapting when a routine changes

have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound

lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)