Making Yoga Accessible for Children with Special Needs - Why it's Important to me
One of my offerings through Your Best Yoga that I don't talk much about is my "Your Best Kids" program. This program offers Yoga for children and youth with various and special needs, either in an in-home, private setting (I come to your home), or at school or other community organization. Today I wanted to give a bit of background on why this type of programming is so important to me and how I try to make Yoga accessible to children and youth with varying needs, so they can experience the joy, and many benefits, of Yoga and Mindfulness.
When I was finishing my Degree at University I realized that while I had an idea of what I wanted to do - work with people in the "helping" capacity - I hadn't had any "real world" experience to base my career aspirations off of. To remedy this, I applied for a Volunteer position with Macdonald Youth Services (MYS) - a Non-profit organization in Winnipeg that served "Youth at Risk". This experience would shape my career trajectory for the next 8 years, and ultimately, lead me to where I am today. After Graduating, I was fortunate enough to be hired on with this organization Full-Time. I was working with Youth who had received Community Service hours, but because of their varying needs, were unable to complete them on their own in the traditional sense. We would work with these Youth in groups at various work-sites, to support and assist them in learning the skills they needed to complete the work for their hours. Through this job I was also fortunate enough to take a variety of additional training's, and learned more about working with Youth at Risk - being "curious, not judgmental", building rapport, how to truly listen and support, how to set and hold realistic expectations based on individual needs, and of course, the importance of having a non-judgmental, unconditional, positive adult influence in the life of a teen. Because the Youth we worked with had varying needs - ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Disorder, Aspergers, and other developmental delays - I was able to learn more about the challenges that the Youth were facing, and was responsible for coming up with techniques and strategies that would help them succeed, which - when it worked - was extremely rewarding.
After working with this program for 4 years, I felt like it was time to move forward, but I knew I still wanted to stay working in a similar field. I applied and interviewed with another large Non-Profit organization in the city and was hired on with New Directions in the FASD Family Support, Education, and Counselling Program.
My job with FASD Family Support saw me working with children and Youth from age 7 - 16 with pre-natal alcohol exposure. Here, I worked with the caregivers and the child/youth to support and educate around FASD, providing strategies for some challenging behaviors at home and in school, and working one-one with the child or Youth. This program provided me with many opportunities and training around working with and supporting people living with FASD. In 2014, I was lucky enough to attend and present at the 6th National Biennial Conference on Adolescents and Adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD: Changing the Converstation). I also had the opportunity to contribute to the resource "Everyday is an Adventure: What Parents and Caregivers Need to Know about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder" . My 4 years with this agency really allowed my knowledge and experience to grow.
While I was working at MYS, I began my Yoga Teacher Training with Yoga Centre Winnipeg. This program ran on evenings and weekends over a two-year span which allowed me to complete the 200 plus hours while I worked full-time. I would complete my training officially in 2013 and receive my certificate, but I was fortunate enough to begin teaching with the Yoga Centre Winnipeg in 2012. I remember the first class I ever taught because I was only a week and a half into my new job with New Directions and the timing of both opportunities overlapping had me feeling really grateful and excited. Over the next 4 years I taught evenings and weekends while I continued to learn and grow with the FASD Family Support Program.
As I continued to work with children and Youth, providing them with strategies and modifications to make day-to-day life run a bit more smooth (again, when strategies worked :)) I started thinking more about how Yoga could benefit some of the children I was working with. I began to consider how I could use some of the same strategies - using visuals, keeping language consistent and short, using fidgets, ensuring sensory needs were being met - to make a Yoga lesson more accessible for some of the children who could likely benefit from the practice, but would perhaps not be successful in a "traditional" yoga class or group. I looked up training's that were specific to teaching Yoga to Children and Youth with special needs, chose one I could complete online, and received a certificate from "Yoga In My Schools" with Donna Freeman. This course provided me with additional tools and information that would help me bring this idea to life.
Once I decided to leave my job with New Directions, I officially launched "Your Best Kids" out into the world. Today, I continue to read, research and learn as much as I can regarding ways to make Yoga accessible to children and youth, no matter what their needs are, but I must say, the biggest teachers are the students themselves. I have been lucky enough to start working with children and youth - both privately and in schools - with varying level of needs. Each student has their own individual strengths and challenges and I continue to do my best to provide modifications, tools, and strategies to ensure the practice is as inclusive, engaging, fun, and beneficial for each child, whether I'm working with them one-one or in a group. Just like in my past careers - sometimes I try things that don't work so well - but that's ok! I'm learning and growing with these kids, and seeing their absolute joy and enjoyment of Yoga has been the most rewarding part of the journey by far.