Application of Integrated Yoga Therapy to Increase Imitation Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Radhakrishna, Shantha | International Journal of Yoga, January-June 2010 | Go to article overview

Application of Integrated Yoga Therapy to Increase Imitation Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder


Radhakrishna, Shantha, International Journal of Yoga


Byline: Shantha. Radhakrishna

Background/Aim: Children with autism exhibit significant deficits in imitation skills, which impede the acquisition of more complex behavior and socialization. Imitation is often targeted early in intervention plans and continues to be addressed throughout the child's treatment. The use of integrated approach to yoga therapy (IAYT) as a complementary therapy for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is rarely reported and little is known on the effectiveness of such therapies. This study investigated IAYT as a treatment method with children with ASD to increase imitative skills. Materials and Methods: Parents and six children with ASD participated in a 10-month program of 5-weekly sessions and regular practice at home. Pre, mid and post treatment assessments included observers and parent ratings of children's imitation skills in tasks related to imitation skills such as gross motor actions, vocalization, complex imitation, oral facial movements and imitating breathing exercises. Results: Improvement in children's imitation skills especially pointing to body, postural and oral facial movements. Parents reported change in the play pattern of these children with toys, peers and objects at home. Conclusions: This study indicates that IAYT may offer benefits as an effective tool to increase imitation, cognitive skills and social-communicative behaviors in children with ASD. In addition, children exhibited increased skills in eye contact, sitting tolerance, non-verbal communication and receptive skills to verbal commands related to spatial relationship.

Introduction

The ability to understand another person's action and, if needed, imitate that action is a core component of human social behavior. Imitation skills can be observed as early as infancy. In typical infants, imitation emerges early in development and plays a crucial role in the development of cognitive, social, communication and other behaviors such as language, play and joint attention. [sup][1]

Early imitation is a non-verbal means of information processing. In normal development, the baby is not taught imitation as such; only in the second half of the year parents begin to teach imitation like waving bye-bye, etc. Typical children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) fail to demonstrate these skills. The more social the imitation is, the harder it is to master. In the order of difficulty, spontaneous object use is least difficult, motor object imitation difficult and body imitation most difficult. [sup][2] Motor imitation is a complex developmental phenomenon that serves important cognitive and social functions. At a social level, it represents earliest forms of reciprocal interactions between infant and the mother.

There is a growing body of literature demonstrating that children with autism have specific deficits in imitating action on objects, body movements, vocalization, gesture, functional objectives and facial expression. Most researchers recognize imitation as a central deficit in children with autism [sup][3],[4] and a lack of imitative play is one of the diagnostic criteria for the disability. [sup][5]

Imitation is defined as the reproduction of a model's action in topography and function for the new actions only. Charmil and Baren-Cohen, [sup][6] Dawson and Adams [sup][7] and De Myer [sup][8] were among the first to investigate imitation skills in autism. In their experiment, 12 children with autism and early childhood schizophrenia were compared to a controlled group of children with mental retardation. The groups were evaluated on a variety of body movements and object manipulation. Children with autism exhibited significantly less imitation skill and had particular difficulty with gestural imitation. Many studies supported these findings. Heimann, Ullstadius, Danigren and Gilberg [sup][9] also found that motor tasks were the least frequently imitated categories in children with autism. …

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