350: Yoga for Autism & Special Needs with Shawnee Thornton Hardy 

Autism spectrum disorder affects about 1 in 100 children globally yet there is still a lot of misconception and misunderstanding about people with autism and other special needs. Shawnee Thornton Hardy shares more about how yoga can support people in this community.

Shawnee is the Founder of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs and the Founder/Director of Yoga Therapy for Youth Certification Program. She has worked with children and adults with autism and individuals with diverse needs for almost 3 decades, specializing in working with children and adults with significant cognitive and language delays, sensory processing challenges, significant behavior challenges and trauma histories. Her goal is to bring the experience of yoga and somatic practices to all individuals no matter their differences or challenges. Shawnee is also a published author – and will be giving away three copies of her book!

In this episode, Shawnee shares more about the children and teenagers that she works with, what their challenges may be, and how yoga can help. She explains some yoga practices that can help with anger and anxiety and how to bring calm when a class or student has high energy. Shawnee also highlights why it’s so important to treat each child as an individual and to let go of our preconceived ideas about them or their special needs label.

Key Takeaways:

[3:40] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Shawnee Thornton Hardy

[7:12] What does Shawnee do and who does she do it for?

[9:01] What inspired Shawnee to do this work?

[10:33] What are some of the labels that get placed on children Shawnee works with?

“[Labels] can be helpful to understand a diagnosis that a child or teen may have because we can have a sense of what some of their challenges or complications may be. But then once we know the label, we go deeper beneath and just look at that child or teen as just a human being and get to know their specific not only challenges but also strengths and their individual ways of navigating the world.” ~ Shawnee Thornton Hardy

[14:15] What are some basic things a teacher who encounters a young person with complex needs in their class should know?

[17:33] What trainings does Shawnee recommend for a yoga teacher who is starting out on this journey of supporting someone with special needs?

[20:37] What are some of the benefits of yoga for young people in this community? Shawnee shares some anecdotes from her experience.

[25:35] Shannon and Shawnee discuss how useful it is even for adults to be able to practice self-awareness.

[28:35] Many adults today have grown up in environments where we were encouraged not to express our negative feelings like anger or sadness.

[29:50] Shannon gives a shout out of thanks to sponsor, OfferingTree.

[31:38] What are some practices that can help for children who are feeling a lot of anxiety or worry?

“How can we ground ourselves in the sense of helping this individual child or human, whoever is in front of us, feel a sense of belonging?” ~Shawnee Thornton Hardy

[34:14] What does Shawnee do when chaos breaks out in her classes?

“When we have kids that are in a dysregulated state, they’re not in a learning space.” ~ Shawnee Thornton Hardy

[37:16] What is something that Shawnee wishes yoga teachers who are supporting children with complex needs knew earlier?

[42:02] Shannon and Shawnee discuss the importance of caring for each child as an individual and not assuming that we know everything about them because we know their diagnosis.

[45:25] Shawnee is giving away three books! Shannon shares the details of the giveaway.

[46:14] How did Shawnee end up writing her books?

[49:41] Shawnee reflects on how important leaning into celebration and joy is, and how that is part of her inner child work.

[56:26] Shannon shares some of her biggest takeaways from this conversation with Shawnee.


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