by Occupational Therapist Staff at League School
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment. This may mean attending to your feelings, thoughts, sensory experiences, or simply your breath. Studies show the practice of mindfulness has benefits that include reducing stress and anxiety as well as increasing focus and the ability to regulate emotions. Practicing mindfulness also has the positive physiological effect of calming the nervous system. Students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder may encounter challenges with increased stress and anxiety, decreased ability to maintain attention, and difficulty regulating emotions. Incorporating the practice of mindfulness in the classroom throughout the school day not only provides students with an additional strategy to draw upon during periods of dysregulation, but can also help prepare them for the many transitions they go through during the school day. Who wouldn’t benefit from a brain break in their hectic day?
There are countless resources available to students and educators to introduce mindfulness to students of all ages and abilities including print material, online games and websites, and technology applications, etc. There are numerous ways the practice of mindfulness can be incorporated into the classroom or daily routines for just a few minutes each day. Simple breathing exercises, guided meditation, yoga, body scans, and progressive muscle relaxation are a few examples of activities students can explore in the classroom environment.
One example of a simple mindfulness activity that takes only a few minutes is a breathing exercise. Breathing exercises can be practiced to assist the student in refocusing their mind and bring them back to the present moment. This helps reduce rumination about negative experiences, as well as worry about what might happen in the future. Students can be led through the activity with verbal and/or visual instruction and modeling. Guiding students to inhale and exhale for a predetermined number of breaths, while providing a visual or manipulative aid to represent the expansion of lungs, can help the students process the exercise in their preferred way.
Students can be challenged as they move through the school day, and it is always important to help the students re-center their thoughts and bodies. Taking a little time to regularly promote mindfulness each day will allow students to adapt the practice so that they can use it for themselves. Just a few minutes each day can have a lasting positive impact on our students’ lives!