What can a special needs student get out of the Martial Arts?
After working with special needs kids, I have determined that the best thing they can receive from the martial arts is confidence and balance. Not just balance in the physical sense but in the internal sense as well. My oldest son spent several years being diagnosed with an assortment of things until the doctors said he is an Explosive Bi-Polar.
What did that mean? Well, it meant that he was losing his cool a lot, as well as using that Martial Arts we were taking as a family in the wrong way. So, Step One, I removed him from Martial Arts. Looking back, that was probably the worst thing I could have done at the time, but it was the choice my wife and I had made. Step Two, we started giving him all kinds of pills just like the doctor said to. Now I am not saying the doctor was wrong, but my boy gained TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS in less than four months. We did nothing to his eating habits. The side-effect of two of the medications he was on included weight gain. Step Three, watch my son become someone different due to modern medicine. Did I mention he still blew up all the time even on the medication?
Martial Arts as a whole represents discipline and structure that most kids not only need, but yearn for in one way or another. Fast forward a couple years. I meet my instructor and we start the family classes again! This time I make my son a bit more responsible for his actions and I make him come to every class we have. He works hard and now realizes that he is accountable to more than just his parents. Now he has another influence in his life as well that expects him to be a productive and positive member of the community.
Look ahead two more years. I have my own school. Did I mention my son is now a blue belt and no longer needs medication to control his anger and frustration, and blow-ups are not in the picture any more? Sure, we have bad days, but NOTHING ever like before.
So the next time someone says Martial Arts is not the answer, tell them to give me a call. I would be happy to explain the benefits to them!
Some benefits for special needs kids:
If you've ever wanted to find out the benefits of Martial Arts and how they can help your Special Needs Child, feel free to call us and we can discuss this with you. We not only have the Martial Arts background needed, we have the family experience as well.
Call us at (608) 437-9262
Attention Deficit Disorder in the Dojang
Diana H. Dunlap, Ph.D.
Over the last decade, there has been a tremendous amount of research dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Children diagnosed with ADD tend to have difficulty giving or sustaining attention. They frequently appear unorganized, and may have difficulty following instructions or directions. Often, these children tend to lose items related to task completion and tend to be forgetful. Some children with the disorder may also display hyperactive and/or impulsive behavior. They squirm or become fidgety, interrupt others, talk excessively, engage in a high level of motor activity and have difficulty in turn-taking activities. Many children with ADD experience difficulty building and maintaining positive peer relationships.
Increasingly, more and more professionals engaged in the treatment of children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD are recommending that these children become involved in a martial arts program. For many children with Attention Deficit Disorder, the dojang provides ideal place to increase attention span, decrease distraction, develop motor and behavioral control, improve self-esteem, and build positive peer relationships. As a Certified School Psychologist, I have frequently recommended taekwondo instruction for ADD children. As a taekwondo instructor, I have seen ADD children make tremendous strides in their ability to sustain attention and control behavior. Finally, as the mother of an ADD child, I have seen the impact that taekwondo instruction can have on attentional and behavioral concerns on the home front.
Parents of ADD children should carefully select a taekwondo school. The instructors at the school should have some familiarity with Attention Deficit Disorder as well as some knowledge of strategies for working with these students. Instructors should constantly be mindful of the needs of each individual student and insure that these needs are addressed in the activities that are provided. A class size of ten to twelve beginners is certainly preferable to one of thirty to forty beginners. It is also a positive sign if assistant instructors or trainees are available to provide extra on-to-one assistance where needed. Parents should seek instructors that provide discipline primarily by shaping behavior through positive reinforcement. This is not to say that the instructor should never impose consequences such as "push-ups" or verbal correction but when correction is provided any positive effort at improvement should be recognized. Consistency is another key component in providing good taekwondo instruction to ADD students. ADD students tend to respond better when they know what to expect and when to expect it.
There are several things that parents can do to help their ADD child to have a positive experience in the dojang. First of all, it is important that your child attend class on a regular basis. Do not punish your child by withholding taekwondo classes. I have frequently heard parents make comments such as "if you get another bad behavior grade, you won't be able to go to taekwondo." Since one of the primary purposes of a taekwondo class for children should be to promote good discipline and respect, it makes no sense to use this as a punishment. Secondly, be consistent in developing your child's class schedule. Choosing to attend class at the same times on the same and days each week establishes a habit of attendance. On class days, rather than ask your child if he/she would like to go to class, announce that it is time to get ready for class. On school days, you would not ask your child if he/she wanted to go to school, but rather you would facilitate their getting ready for school. Assist your child in maintaining uniforms and equipment. It helps to keep an extra clean uniform on hand, and to buy spare mouthpieces in advance. Have a consistent place for gear storage, and have your child double check for all pieces of gear prior to leaving for class and from class. Be supportive of your child's instructor, and do not be afraid to ask for suggestions for assistance with discipline at appropriate times. Most instructors will be glad to set up an appointment with you to address any special concerns you may have pertaining to your child. Praise your child for accomplishments and provide encouragement when they experience difficulty. In whatever way you can, help to make taekwondo a positive experience in your child's life.
Martial Arts and Autism. (PDD-NOS)……..do these two go together? Can they?
Apparently many parents of autistic children have used martial arts as a sports activity for their autistic children. The surprise is that many autistic children have thrived on it…but should that be such a surprise?
Martial Arts trains its student in motor coordination and body movements which is exactly what helps autistic children (teens and adults as well). Martial arts can connect the mind and body together more strongly.
Persons with autism are in need of physical therapy and exercise to improve their range of motion and control over their movements. Martial arts is used often with the mentally and physically challenged for those very reasons.
Martial arts use stretching to improve range of motion and flexibility, and repetitive drills to teach the student to control their body as well as to strengthen them. Martial arts teaches discipline to it's students which people with autism, in particular, benefit from. They become much more self-confident because of it.
One student who has benefited tremendously from his martial arts' training is Wesley Henkendorn who refers to himself as having “recovered from autism". He has earned himself a black belt and now teaches classes at the American Martial Arts Center in Blacksburg, VA (the very place he took his first lessons). This was unthinkable before.
Another fascinating discovery is how Qigong massage (Chinese medicine) is improving autistic behavior when used in early intervention. Qigong is the foundation of Kung Fu and is internal martial arts with healing exercises that combine movement, meditation and breathe regulation.
The suggestion to try Chinese medicine for improvements in autistic symptoms was based on the theory that the sensory impairment so prevalent in autism is caused by a blockage of energy that prevents these children from processing information effectively and therefore causes developmental delays in communication and social interaction.
A study conducted at the Teaching Research Institute at Western Oregon University in partnership with Williamette Education Service District and Louisa Silva, MD came to the conclusion that Qigong therapy appears to release energy consequently enabling the child to be able to communicate and respond more appropriately to their environment.
Congruent to Chinese beliefs (which include medicinal as well as martial arts' philosophy)…autism is believed to be a "yin/yang" issue which encompasses balance and the homeostasis of the universe including the five elements (gold, wood, water, fire and soil)
This philosophy states that many diseases can be traced back to the disharmony of the Yin/Yang…… conflicts between Qi. Qi is the "life energy" that flows through our bodies which involve the eight principles….exterior/interior, cold/heat, deficiency/excess and yin/yang.
In one pilot control study of 30 children with autism, children involved in either martial arts and/or Chinese therapy (usually massage), experienced significant improvements in language, social communication and cognition as well as less hyperactivity, temper tantrums, longer attention spans, better sleeping patterns and much more independence.
And more still….other studies have been conducted demonstrating for the first time in clinical trials how acupuncture is being used to successfully improve the dysfunction related to autism by activating vital connections in the brain. Once the brain has been "activated", different types of therapies can occur for example: (speech, occupational and behavioral therapy)
So, to go back to the question as to whether martial arts and autism go together…it's a definite yes….for many reasons. And although it may sound strange… an autistic person can make a really good fighter…Why? …because they have no ego. When an autistic martial arts student is in a match…..they are just trying to remember what the sensei told them to do in any given situation that they happen to be dealing with at the time while a fighter without autism may be thinking…."Yo…I'm faster, I'm better….or worse…I, QUIT!!
In conclusion….if you know someone with autism or have it yourself….check out what martial arts and Chinese therapy can do for you. It can be the beginning of a whole new world. It's amazing what willpower, exercise, nutrition and better self-confidence can achieve!!
For more on this topic, look for a future article called "Martial arts, autism...and Thomas A McKean"