Karma Mats is working to address those barriers by providing eco-friendly, nontoxic yoga mats and trained yoga teachers to groups of children receiving the mats.

These yoga mats are made from jute and PER (Polymer Environmental Resin), a synthetic that is biodegradable in landfills. They contain no PVCs (polyvinyl chloride), which can off-gas harmful toxic fumes; no phthalates, which research has linked to a variety of disorders including autism and which have been banned in the U.S. in some children’s products; and no latex, a known allergen. And an important consideration for children’s use – they are machine washable.

Karma Mats’ objectives over the next year, are to: 

1. Reach out to organizations serving children with autism and their families (community groups, churches, schools, service agencies) in the Greater Los Angeles area and provide information about Karma Mats and the advantages of yoga. We will concentrate in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods where there is a lack of services for children with ASD. 

2. Identify organizations to receive yoga mats and instruction. 

3. Set up and hold yoga classes for children with autism—and other special needs children as appropriate—at these organizations. In our first year, we will also do ongoing evaluation of our process and seek feedback from the staff at these organizations, as well as from parents and the children. 

4. Teach staff at each organization the basics of yoga, so that they can lead classes on their own into the future. At each organization, staff will be involved in the yoga classes, both to provide continuity for the children and so that they can become familiar with the way the classes are taught. We will work with each organization to identify at least one staff member to be trained. The method of training will depend on staff availability and schedules and will include in-class training, teacher classes with participants from several organizations, or a combination of the two.

 
 
 

5. Follow up with each organization and provide ongoing information and support to staff. Karma Mats staff will build relationships with each organization, so that there can be consistency and continuity for the children who are participating in yoga classes and to ensure that staff are comfortable with teaching yoga. It will also help staff communicate to new clients the benefits of the classes and integrate them into the program at their organizations.

6. Provide informational packets for parents and guardians on the benefits of yoga for their children. We will distribute these to the organizations we work with, as well as to the larger community. Often, parents and guardians may not understand what yoga is or may think we are trying to “convert” their children instead of providing a gentle and effective way for them to learn to control their physical and emotional behaviors. As appropriate, we will include parents and guardians in some classes so that they can share the experience with their children and become comfortable with yoga themselves.

 
 
 

7. Begin building a network of additional cities into which Karma Mats can expand our work. As opportunities arise, Karma Mats staff will connect with autism support organizations and service providers in other cities and explore ways to expand our services.

8. Attend relevant conferences and meetings, local and national, on yoga for special needs children. This will ensure that Karma Mats staff are aware of current trends and research, as well as providing important networking opportunities.

Besides, these yoga mats are made from jute and PER (Polymer Environmental Resin), a synthetic that is biodegradable in landfills. They contain no PVCs (polyvinyl chloride), which can off-gas harmful toxic fumes; no phthalates, which research has linked to a variety of disorders including autism and which have been banned in the U.S. in some children’s products; and no latex, a known allergen. And an important consideration for children’s use – they are machine washable.

Yoga is a wonderful way to help children with autism address many issues they face, on their own and in a way that is not only enjoyable but relatively inexpensive. By providing free mats and training local staff and other adults on how to lead a yoga class, Karma Mats will ensure that thousands, and eventually millions, of children with ASD, along with their families and communities, can experience yoga’s benefits.

 
 
 
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THE RATE OF CHILDREN WITH ASD IS GROWING

The rate of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is growing in the U.S. and around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates one in 160 children worldwide has ASD; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate the rate in the U.S. to be one in 68, a significant increase from their finding of approximately one in 150 in 2002.

 
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THE COST OF MATS AND THE AVAILABILITY OF QUALIFIED INSTRUCTORS ARE THE TWO BARRIERS

 
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While yoga has been found to have significant benefits for children with ASD, as outlined below, for many in low- and moderate-income areas, access to yoga remains problematic. Two barriers are the cost of mats and the availability of qualified instructors. 

Many families struggle to meet every day living expenses and having a child with special needs often means additional costs for transportation, mainstream medical care, and much more. Estimates range from $17,000 to $21,000 more per year to care for a child with ASD, with additional basic medical expenses of $4,000 to $6,000 per year. Even though the Affordable Care Act mandates coverage for development disorders such as ASD, states are able to determine which behavioral therapies are covered under mental health parity. In addition, many parents forgo income, either by not taking a second job or by losing time from work to care for their autistic child. 

The added expense of going to a yoga studio or class is, therefore, simply unaffordable. In addition, while some schools have begun offering yoga as part of the curriculum, many schools—particularly those in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods with stretched budgets—are not able to do so. A UCLA study, for example, showed that schools in high-poverty areas in California, such as L.A. County, are unable to provide as much learning time as those in more affluent areas. And service organizations in lower-income neighborhoods struggle to keep their doors open for mainstream activities for nondisabled children.

 
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