Altering the Course of Stress for the Special Needs Child


Diane L MacDonald, M. Ed., NLP CP, RYT 200

Founder and Creator of Sensory YogaPlay

We talk often about stress in adults but we forget that childhood can be stressful too. Many children, particularly those with special needs, suffer with debilitating stress.  Trouble focusing, short attention spans, not fitting in, poor organizational skills, as well as an inability to follow instructions and requests in expected patterns can lead to frustration, feeling out of control and hopelessness.  This is a familiar pattern for many children with special needs and a sure set up for daily stress.  

When stress builds and is unmanaged it overwhelms our ability to act. Stress can lead to depression, negative thoughts, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Left unchecked stress can result in heart disease, Tourette’s syndrome, and chronic pain. Again, all too familiar symptoms experienced by the special needs child.

Are these symptoms secondary to a diagnosis of ADHD, autism or behavior disorders or are these symptoms occurring as a result of tremendous stress?   This is not a question anyone has found the answer to.

In my experience however when we approach our support of the special needs child with tools to manage the physical symptoms and emotional components of stress we see tremendous results.  

The physical manifestations of a body in stress include shortness of breath, increased heart rate, tightening of the muscles, an increase in adrenaline and cortisol, sweaty skin, irritable bowel and constipation, to name a few.  This is the body’s NATURAL reaction to harmful, unsafe or uncomfortable situations and is known as the “flight–or-flight” or stress response.  The response is controlled by the autonomic sympathetic nervous system, the branch of our nervous system that defends the body against attack.  Looked at from this perspective we can say that living in a constant state of STRESS is living life at every moment in preparation of an attack.  

How effectively can a child learn, listen to instructions, interact with others or make positive choices in this defensive mode of operating?

One of the main tenants of the Sensory YogaPlay (SYP) practice is to eliminate the physical manifestations of stress, to turn off the sympathetic response and trigger the parasympathetic system – also an involuntary response.  The parasympathetic system of nerves is concerned with nourishing, healing and the regeneration of the body. In this state digestion and the immune system are stimulated and the body has time to rebuild.  The parasympathetic system is activated by calming breathing techniques, rest, relaxation, experiences of happiness and positive thoughts – all fundamental qualities delivered in the practice of Sensory YogaPlay.  SYP emphasizes awareness of breath, yoga movement (asana) accompanied by even breathing techniques that slow the heart and relax the mind, use of positive language as well as visualization, relaxation strategies and meditation practices.

So whether stress is a symptom of a special needs diagnosis or the child’s interaction with the world – the result is the same.  The sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive and exhausted, the physical and mental body becomes depleted and burned out and our children are often unable to learn, to grow, to play and to enjoy life in a productive and meaningful way.

The strategies of Sensory YogaPlay bring our children into a parasympathetic state – fundamentally and sustainably altering our children’s ability to release stress and to live in a more positive relaxed state, freeing their minds and bodies to heal and to grow.

For more information on Sensory YogaPlay go to:

To book a Sensory YogaPlay workshop at your location call Diane L MacDonald at 646-546-0644 or email

This is a sponsored post and was not written by Momee Friends of Long Island.

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My name is Anne and I am a local mommy blogger ... Momee Friends is all about Long Island and all things local with the focus on family

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