Autism Awareness Month

Yoga for the Body and Mind
By Cindy Beesley

Breathing, counting, stretching, posing, and a room full of smiles – this is what an observer would see if he or she stopped in to see the yoga class taking place on Wednesday evenings at Half Mile Rd.  Four Benhaven residents work through a series of physical and mental exercises, with the help of their very dedicated supporters, and under the capable guidance of the yoga instructor, Zorayda Cocchi, OTR/L, RYT, CYKT.  The class is in its third eight-week session so far.  It has been such a joy to witness how each resident has responded to yoga.  One of the goals of bringing yoga to our residents is to introduce strategies for body awareness, focus and self-regulation.  There is some hope that people will be able to call on some of their yoga training in times of stress or disharmony.  There is also the simple benefit of learning and participating in a new, fun activity.  Zorayda has much experience working with people with autism and developmental disabilities, and has a gentle way of teaching and providing encouragement and direction. 

Each resident attends class consistently, and brings his or her own charm to the proceedings. There are a lot of variations and directions being offered, but everyone is game, following the movements as best they can and with enthusiasm.  It’s been incredible to watch each person’s growth at each session (including the staff!), moving from cat and cow positions with accompanying sounds, stretching with poses like sunrise/sunset, rocking the baby and child’s pose, and balancing with the difficult tree pose.  Anthony Ayotte stays in communication with Zorayda, checking in that he has his pose correct and announcing how pleased he is to be participating.  Brendan Gallagher attentively watches the instructor and responds to her encouraging directions with a sly smile.  Josh Roldan has made great progress, going from about 10 minutes during the first few weeks to participating fully now for the full session, doing his best to follow the directions with help of his supporter and observing how all the others are doing the activities.  Henry Montanez is fully on board, smiling broadly, verbally counting along with enthusiasm for all the movements.  A number of staff have been providing consistent support, namely Andre Jones, Tammy Bick, Jesse Lewis, Sarah Rosenberg, and more recently Jon Somerset, and Cheree Bailey.  Their gentle guidance, persistence and encouragement is really what makes the whole thing possible.  Namaste J

Joshua Finds His Zen
By Andre Jones

In the early weeks of yoga class, it wasn’t clear that yoga was the best fit for Joshua.  His attention span was very short and he didn’t understand how to follow any of the instructor’s directions.  There were times when it was necessary to leave class early.  It was a challenge for me, because I had the responsibility to learn the moves in order to help Joshua through the exercises.  Each week, I was getting a workout.  On more than one occasion, I left class drenched in sweat. 

As weeks passed by, slowly but surely Joshua began to make great progress.  He still required lots of hands on prompting, but less so.  He had made so much improvement, it had changed from helping someone who was resistant, to helping someone who really wanted help.  Joshua was no longer having issues staying on his mat.  In fact, with the help of the instructor, Zorayda, Cindy and Theresa, we were able to pinpoint Joshua’s strengths, and integrate them into his everyday schedule as coping strategies to help redirect negative behaviors.

I was given the opportunity to assist other staff members at Johnson House, teaching them how to assist Joshua, and how to help him improve these skills. Photos were taken of Zorayda and I acting out different poses, which we put together in a binder for Josh to practice at home.  Recently, Josh had occasion to use his yoga techniques in real life.  He became upset one night, wanting to go out and pick up dinner when it wasn’t his turn.  We used some of these strategies to calm him, and to my surprise, it worked!  It was at that moment I became very proud of Joshua.  Looking back on how far he has come to where he is now was very gratifying because I know that I played a major role in his growth and success and it all lines up with our goal of improving his quality of life.


Anthony & Brendan performing bridge pose            Henry & Josh performing balancing table pose


Josh & Andre getting ready for warrior pose           Class performs a snake pose

Mr. Briceno Named 2017-2018 Larry Wood Scholarship Award Recipient
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187 Half Mile Road
North Haven, CT 06473

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