Kids Yoga for Special NeedsMy large experience in traveling the world and working is that we’re a lot much more alike than different at the heart. And sport is a great common denominator. – Dr. Frank Hayden

A Revolution in Play Skills for Kids with Special Needs

We become a wiser and kinder society when we try to understand each child in their uniqueness, with unique needs and unique capabilities.

Dr. Frank Hayden, Founder of Special Olympics

Dr. Frank Hayden

Yet there was a time when children with special needs were thought to be unintelligent and physically incapable of participating in the most basic play and sporting activities.  All teachers, families, and coaches saw was what those children couldn’t do.  Few were asking or wondering about what kids with special needs could do.

Sometimes it takes someone thinking differently than everyone else to transform long-held social beliefs like these. Once such person was Dr. Frank Hayden. He revolutionized the way educators approached teaching physical activity to kids with special needs.

“Nobody taught them to ride a bike because they figured they would never learn. Nobody on the street played with them because they didn’t have the play skills to do it. And people were in some ways, even frightened of them.”  – Dr. Frank Hayden

Dr. Hayden currently lives in Burlington, Ontario, where we hold our kids yoga summer certification, but he started his revolutionary fitness research with a group of inner-city Toronto children in the 1960’s.

It’s Not the Disability that Prevents Participation, It’s a Lack of Opportunity

Using the tools of the scientific method he showed it wasn’t disability that prevented children with special needs from participating in play and recreation, it was a lack of opportunity.  Those children had never been taught play skills which meant they had never gotten the opportunity to learn play skills.

The Dawn of the Special Olympics

When Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of John F. Kennedy, heard of Dr. Hayden’s revolutionary research she asked him to help start an Olympic style event for children of differing sporting abilities. The first such event was held in Chicago in 1968 it became a regular occurrence going on to be named the Special Olympics. Dr. Hayden played a key role in the growth and development of the Special Olympics which now involves over 5 million athletes in 170 countries.

For his pioneering work in sport and play Dr. Hayden was recently inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

This video of Dr. Hayden’s work is highly recommended because it shows what a difference one person with the right attitude can make.

Dr. Hayden changed hearts and minds and proved that highly skilled physical activity and athleticism was possible for all children, especially those of varying physical and learning abilities.

To develop these skills, kids must be given the opportunity to learn.

Society has become a kinder and wiser thanks to this ground breaking research and world changing actions.

As kids yoga teachers we can honour Dr. Hayden’s work when we learn ways to offer yoga with activities and environments where children with special needs can fulfill their physical and emotional potentials.  All kids can do yoga if we give them the opportunity to learn.

Inclusive Yoga

If you would like to learn more about teaching yoga to children of varying abilities, the next kids yoga teacher training module is Inclusive Yoga and it focuses on yoga for kids with special needs. In addition to poses and music, we present techniques and tools like visual schedules, games like the yoga obstacle course, and activities that teach kids how to self-regulate stress using our super hero Yoga Man.


Inclusive Yoga Certificate Kids Yoga Teacher Training

Upcoming Kids Yoga Teacher Training Courses and Dates in Toronto at this link

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  1. Beautiful article and video on Special Olympics and Dr. Hayden’s work. Aruna you are always opening us up to the much bigger picture of yoga and weaving into our lives off of the mat and into the world. Thank you for stretching our hearts even wider. Also on a side note a very cute picture of you and Claire, an awesome trainer assist in your workshops. Thank you both for such wonderful work. I am so grateful for you helping me become a better kids yoga teacher. Love, Sat Nam, Charlotte Connick Mabry, RYT, RCYT
    New Orleans, Louisiana Wild Lotus Yoga Studio

    • Sat Nam Charlotte,

      It is amazing to see how much the work of one person, like Dr. Hayden, can help us see that a mindset can be the biggest disability. I found his work very inspiring to see how if we change our minds we can change the world.

      Looking forward to seeing you in New Orleans this summer and having you teaching in the kids yoga teacher summer certification! you’ve got so much wisdom to share and your little yogis are so sweet : )