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Autism and Martial Arts

Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley

Autism is a developmental disorder that according to the Autism Speaks affects every one in 150 individuals. Symptoms of autism are characterized by difficulty associating with others, lack of communication, repetitive behaviors, and sensitivity to touch. While normally diagnosed as an infant, there really is no age limit to when the disease is finally identified in a person.

Autism has a wide range of impact, with mild cases only showing slight signs of the disease to the more severe which impact the patientís ability to function in society. This makes living with autism very personal and specific to the patient in question. For some, Martial Arts has been a means to learning how to cope with the symptoms of autism.

Martial Arts provides exercise focusing on body movement, which allows the autistic to become more aware of themselves. The routine that most classes are run under, provide a level of comfort to those living with autism while still introducing them to variability and accepting slow changes. Repetition, which is one of the cornerstones to how one trains, builds a level of assurance.

Martial Arts is also about the mind and joining the mind, body, and spirit. Thus, in addition to training the body, it provides a means to focus the mind and help develop those skills needed to function in life. Martial Arts can also provide a level of self-esteem which can also be helpful to one who might be frustrated with their condition. Becoming an expert in Martial Arts is about accepting yourself and learning to work with what limitations you might have, not simply being the strongest or most fit.

For parents:
If you have an autistic child and are looking towards Martial Arts for help, there are some basic things to consider:
  • First and foremost, you should always consult your doctor before beginning any physical training. Having them as a partner in this endeavor will only strengthen its possibility of success.
  • Be upfront with the instructor. Make sure you have a conversation with the instructor of the class and the head instructor of the school. The two may not be the same and itís important both of them are aware of the situation. Discuss your goals with them and make sure they are comfortable with working on your terms.
  • Observe the class in person, especially for the first few classes. Take the time to go into the class and observe. Do the other kids treat your child well? Does it seem like he or she is feeling comfortable and not frustrated? Is he or she receiving the proper level of encouragement? Some teachers donít like this level of involvement from parents but I highly encourage it.
  • Talk to and encourage your child to practice outside of the classroom. Donít make it a chore but definitely find time right after class and then in between classes to encourage your child to think about what he or she learned. It will help reinforce the lessons. By doing so, they will also find themselves doing better in the classes and get a boost in confidence from it.
  • Consider joining the class yourself. One of the best things you can do, even if your child is not autistic, is to be involved in their lives. Martial Arts is for everyone and thereís no reason you canít participate as well.

For instructors:
If you are taking on a new student who is autistic, consider a few things before you begin:
  • Make sure the class size is not too large and you can devote enough time and attention to the student
  • Consider finding out what limitations you have and potentially explore them in a private lesson with the parent present. Does the child react when touched or engaged? How does the child react when spoken to? Do they become violent or upset at certain things or when certain things in class occur?
  • Apply the appropriate encouragement and push. Donít expect an autistic student to develop at first as quickly as other students. Accept that and make them feel comfortable about their progress. Provide a lot of positive reinforcements. Donít be afraid to push the child a little bit towards their limits but know when to back down. It is good to challenge a child, but not good to make them upset.
  • Partner with the parent. Make them feel welcome both in the classroom and on the floor. One of the things we often do with special needs students is have the parents take the notes for the child. That way, they feel involved and can review the materials more effectively with their young ones later on. This helps to encourage both of them.
  • Find appropriate partners for the child. If you know one of your students is rough or pushy, make sure you donít pair them up with your autistic child. If necessary, change classes or try to keep them apart. Be sure if they do happen to be paired up that you keep an eye on them during that period so nothing goes wrong.

Martial Arts can be a very helpful to those living with Autism if managed well and under the right conditions. The training provides autistics with opportunities to develop their motor skills, concentration, and confidence. In addition, the classroom setting with other students provides a means to practice socialization skills. All of these are important to helping to learn to cope with the symptoms of autism.


For more information about Autism, please visit the Autism Channel here at BellaOnline: http://www.bellaonline.com/site/AutismSpectrumDisorders
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Content copyright © 2014 by Caroline Chen-Whatley. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Caroline Chen-Whatley. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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