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"