A simple, school-based yoga program can do wonders for kids with autism, researchers say, yielding gains in both behavior and socialization.

In a study comparing children with autism who did yoga each day at school compared to kids who followed a typical routine instead, those who participated in the stretching exercises exhibited significantly less aggressive behavior, social withdrawal and hyperactivity.

The findings published this month in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy offer tremendous promise for the growing population of children with the developmental disorder, researchers say.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The study focused on children with autism at a public school in the Bronx who participated in a yoga program called “Get Ready to Learn.” The 17-minute daily regimen includes deep breathing, yoga poses, tensing and relaxing muscles and finally singing, all led by the classroom teacher.

Researchers monitored the students for 16 weeks as they participated in the program and compared their experiences to those of a control group who did not do yoga.

“We found that teachers’ ratings of students who participated in the daily yoga routine showed improved behavior compared with teachers’ ratings of students who did not,” said Kristie Koenig, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York University who led the study. “Our research indicates that a manualized systemic yoga program, implemented on a daily basis, can be brought to public school classrooms as an option for improving classroom behavior.”

The yoga program Koenig and her colleagues studied is already being implemented with kids with disabilities in over 500 classrooms in New York. What’s more, teachers are using the routine in general education classrooms in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont, researchers said.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.