Equipping Caregivers of Children with Autism in Vietnam

Ruth shares an exciting story of how she seized an opportunity to share her practice of medical therapeutic yoga with a community of parents and teachers caring for children with autism in Vietnam. (from Proyogatherapy.org)

What inspired you to work with children with special needs?  IMG_0061

I feel as though my mother raised me to do this work!  She was a school teacher with a special interest and training in Special Education. From the time I was 6 years old, I was my mother’s side-kick for her volunteer work. During my first experience I fulfilled the role as inspirational playmate and motivator with a 3 year old child with CP. Thanks to mom, I later was a volunteer tutor for a girl who was legally blind.  And finally, my mother (who was volunteering at a camp for children with disabilities at the time) introduced me to a pediatric OT who helped me realize I could pursue this as a fun and rewarding career.

When and how did you find the group “Live with Autism” in Vietnam?

Last summer a pediatrician from Vietnam spent one month shadowing one of my facilities’ Developmental Pediatricians.  As part of her UVA Children’s Hospital experience she observed therapy sessions, including a Social Skills Group that I co-created and co-lead with an OT colleague. I shared with Dr. Trang that I had a trip planned with my daughter to Vietnam in December/January.  She told me about the LIVE WITH AUTISM club for parents and teachers of children with autism in southern Vietnam.  She also spoke about the absence of occupational therapy in Vietnam and the desperate need for more education and training in managing this patient population. I then agreed to travel to Ho Chi Minh City to offer some type of training to the LIVE WITH AUTISM club during my travels in Vietnam.

IMG_0455At this time, children with autism living in Vietnam are either in the regular classrooms without special supports, in a special needs facility, or unable to attend school. The teachers do not have specialty training or extra help when these children are in their classroom (with large class sizes); therefore the teachers are very eager to learn helpful strategies alongside the parents. This is a society that clearly treasures their children and the parents are passionate about doing what’s best on behalf of their kids. The group meets quarterly for a day and offers various workshops and support sessions. I had the honor of being the guest trainer for one of these workshops.*

Was the group receptive to the idea of using yoga with their kids?

Yes! This group loved the yoga session and seemed quite eager to use these techniques with their children.

IMG_0545Do you feel that this 1 day of training was enough to empower the parents/teachers to use yoga therapeutically with their kids?

Unfortunately, no. I believe that I gave a good introduction to the benefits and practice of involving children in a therapeutic yoga experience. However, this style of practice was very foreign to the participants, and I feel certain that they need further training and support.

So what’s next?  What is your dream for taking this offering to the next step?

I have some very specific dreams and goals to build upon this experience.

First, I plan to create a video exemplifying the use of yoga with children with autism*, with translation into Vietnamese. This tool will be immensely helpful for individual parents or teachers who desire to incorporate a yoga practice into the home or school environment.

I would also love to return to Vietnam to do further specific hands-on training with the IMG_0579LIVE WITH AUTISM club (and perhaps other groups). It would be amazing to coordinate a trip with other PYTI-trained healthcare professionals to offer a multidisciplinary training and spread the benefits to a wider patient population.

And finally, I aim to expand this work to other developing nations and populations! For instance, the video will be created with “voice over” for translation. Therefore, the same video can be created with other languages. This video will ideally accompany visits to other nations, with training workshops offered.  Providing a video will help participants review what they have learned in the workshop and can aid in implementing these techniques into the home or classroom environment.

What is the obstacle to my dream? You guessed it – money!  Donate here to support this project.  All donations are tax deductible.




About the Author  Ruth Goldeen graduated from University of Pennsylvania with a BS in Occupational Therapy in 1981. She later completed a M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education with a Special Needs emphasis, at the University of Virginia. Ruth has worked as a Pediatric OT for over 30 years and during the last 16 years has included yoga as an integral part of her treatment.  She graduated from the Professional Yoga Therapy Institute in 2017. proyogatherapy.orgRuth currently works in the Pediatric Outpatient services at UVA Medical Center. 

*I have several goals as a yoga teacher for children with Special Needs. I aim to help each child experience nervous system regulation, striving to achieve calm/focus at the beginning of the class, working up to active/playful, and returning to calm/quiet for the end. Of course, we also work on the physical benefits of a yoga practice, including flexibility, strengthening, body awareness, and motor coordination. In the cognitive domain, the children must listen, follow instructions, and have opportunities to work on skills such as sequencing and memory. We also address social and communication skills through “child friendly” activities and set-up. For instance, I prefer to have the mats set up in a circle, and encourage “all eyes on me” or upon a particular participant during games where children have opportunities to lead a pose. We play a yoga name game which offers practice with introducing oneself and remembering the names of others.  We create yoga stories and play a variety of other games that allow fun practice with yoga poses as well as controlled interaction with others. For deep relaxation at the end of practice I like to cover the children with lightweight scarves and read a meditative story.  Many of these children have difficulty calming and falling asleep at night so practicing the skill of relaxing and calming while being read to can be very valuable.