MASSENA As the mother of an autistic child, Debra A. Donatto relishes the moments when her son can be at ease playing and interacting with other children.
To help create more of those moments, Ms. Donatto is running a free childrens yoga group from 2 to 3 p.m. each Sunday through Nov. 18 in the former Hallmark store at St. Lawrence Centre mall.
Ive been running a play group for kids with autism since my son was 3, and hes 11 now, Ms. Donatto said. The parents who attend the autism support group she also runs often bring their children along, she said.
We found the kids who came to the support group meetings really clicked, she said. It must have been something about their personalities. They can just play and feel comfortable with each other.
Thats something, she said, that doesnt always come easily to children with autism, as socialization skills are one of the things autism affects the most.
Support group members decided we really wanted an opportunity to get the kids together as often as possible, Ms. Donatto said. One of the children is home-schooled, so he really doesnt have a social circle outside of his family.
Support group meetings are held from 6 to 8 p.m. the third Monday of each month at New Testament Church, 265 Andrews St., but those meetings and the once-monthly play group just werent enough for the children, Ms. Donatto said.
We decided we really wanted to get the kids together on a regular basis, she said.
There are other benefits to the yoga group in addition to giving the children an opportunity to socialize and play with their friends, Ms. Donatto said.
This is beneficial to them in terms of stretching, breathing, dealing with anxiety, learning to focus and have fun, too, she said. I think its great for the kids to have something positive, and this gets them thinking about their own personal power.
While the yoga classes were formed with autistic children in mind, Ms. Donatto said, they are open to all school-age children.
My 9-year-old and all her friends want to participate too, she said.
Parents are asked to drop off their children at the store just before 2 p.m. each Sunday.
I wanted a place where the parents could drop their kids off, Ms. Donatto said. I dont think the kids would participate as much if all of their parents were there.
To help encourage participation, Ms. Donatto said, there are competitions with prizes.
They can learn breathing techniques and maybe use them before they react. If they can learn to do that, it will help them all through life, Ms. Donatto said.
Its really good for school and will help with tests, as theyll be learning to breathe and relax, she added. Its good for sports too, and just helping get them off on the right foot.