Asanas For Autism

This week, we are ecstatic to share a post by Shawnee Thornton, founder of Asanas for Autism, who expressed her views on inclusion for us. We hope you enjoy!

Shawnee_Isaac embryoWith education, compassion, understanding, and a sprinkle of creativity, we can adapt any activity to meet the needs of any child. It is a basic need of all humans to be accepted, included, and loved. When we are able to see through a child’s behaviors to identify what it is that they want or need, we can support them in getting their needs met, feeling safe in the world around them, and blossoming into the best little humans that they can be. Inclusion is about accepting children for who they are and adapting our views, our ways of thinking and doing, for them to feel accepted.

My vision of an inclusive world is a world in which we teach our children early on to embrace others for their differences, their imperfections, their quirks, their individuality, their humanness, and their awkwardness, and to embrace their own uniqueness as well. An inclusive world is a world where all children have the same opportunities and are viewed equally, regardless of their abilities.

shawnee-childs-groupThe biggest focus on inclusion came to me when I began teaching yoga to children with special needs. I noticed that there were many yoga classes, camps, and opportunities out there for children to benefit from yoga, but there were very few opportunities for children with special needs to participate in yoga activities in their community. I wanted children with special needs to have access to yoga, so they could develop tools for reducing anxiety and soothing their nervous systems. Developing coping skills for stress and anxiety will not only support children with special needs in participating in more activities with their families and community; it will also support them in living happier, healthier, more peaceful lives. 

Shawnee_river 2One of my most memorable inclusion experiences is when I taught an inclusive yoga class to a group of children. The group consisted of many levels of abilities. I gave some of the children the role of being the “helpers.” They were each paired with a child who needed extra support or assistance in doing the poses. The children who were more independent responded so well to being able to help their peers who needed additional support and the children who needed extra help were excited to have yoga bring them together with their classmates. They each shared something with the other– compassion, trust, appreciation, and the notion that we are all different but very much the same in many ways. Children can learn so much from one another when they are in a trusting, open environment where we embrace and celebrate each other’s differences.

–Written by Shawnee Thornton, edited by KIT Staff.


Shawnee has worked with children with autism and special needs for over 15 years. She has specialized in working with children with significant cognitive and language delays, sensory processing deficits, as well as severe behavior problems. Shawnee has a Master’s in Special Education, is a 500-RYT, E-RYT a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance, a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, and the Founder of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs. She has a published book coming out in December 2014, titled Asanas for Autism and Special Needs: Yoga to Help Children with their Emotions, Self-Regulation and Body Awareness.  She has also created a Yoga School, Asanas for Autism and Special Needs, through Yoga Alliance, in order to train and certify others to teach yoga to children with special needs.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at

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