Very often parents of children with special needs find that there aren’t many sporting, leisure or afterschool activities available to them.
There are many reasons why this can happen.
• The classes are too large
• Coaches/instructors feel unable or ill-equipped to have children with special needs in their class
• The nature of the sport/activity itself cannot accommodate children with special needs
• The child finds it difficult to participate in sports or activities due to the competitiveness or social difficulties/anxieties
I know as my daughter was growing up I tried a variety of classes for her including swimming, yoga, dance, ice- skating, afterschool clubs, to name but a few and for various reasons she was unable to continue with them. Having spoken with many other parents they also experienced the same difficulties.
Even so, as a parent it can be difficult to watch your child sit on the sidelines or stay at home knowing that other children their age are enjoying interacting with their peer group and developing their skills through sport and play. You want to see them being involved in something, anything, and feel that you’re letting them down if you are unable to find something suitable that will meet their needs.
Well, a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Kirkpatrick an incredible woman who has cut through all the would-be barriers and with her colleague, Duncan Hewitson, has developed Scotland’s first Judo class dedicated to children and adults with special needs. Not only do the students participate in local competition but they have also competed in the British Championships and Special Olympics, bringing home gold medals in individual and team events.
The class ranges in age from 8 – 50 years and comprises students with a range of difficulties including physical disability, autistic spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and learning difficulties.
The benefits of Judo classes for the students can be:
• Learning self-discipline
• Letting go of fears
• Increased self-esteem and confidence
• Building friendships
• Improving social skills
• Increased independence
• Providing a sense of (physical) balance
• Increased motivation
The benefits of judo classes for parents can be:
• Much needed respite
• Opportunity to celebrate their child’s successes
• Socialising opportunities with other parents
• Watching their child grow in confidence
• An opportunity to become actively involved at tournaments (timekeeping etc)
What’s amazing is that students can ‘fight’ from any position including from the knees and if they are unable to do that they ‘fight’ from the stomach. Hard to believe that’s possible. However it is.
In fact many of the students who would likely find it difficult to achieve growth in mainstream classes are now going on to achieve black belt status within the special needs class.
As with anything however, funding is an issue and Susan would like to see more funding being made available to accommodate more students with differences. But she truly believes that anyone who has any type of special need can be and should be accomodated in a judo class.
When Susan talks about her students you can sense her passion and belief in them and you know that she is a woman who can truly make a difference to the lives of people who have special needs.
In her own words:
“It’s amazing to see the sport of Judo come together. We just have to adapt and think on our feet. .......And it’s not going to work perfectly all the time. We’re all human – we all have moods and the kids are just the same. But I can honestly say I’ve never had to turn any child away due to behaviour or disability..... In fact I’m very protective of my students and watching them achieve something is so rewarding and just fantastic!”
There are some people who say that all children with special needs have gifts and talents. There are other people like Susan who actually take the time to find and nurture that talent and allow the child the opportunity to achieve greatness.