Itâ€™s no secret that a traditional martial arts program is
one of the best extracurricular activities a child can participate in. For children with special needs the benefits
are invaluable because of the inherit structure and discipline the arts bring
to a childâ€™s daily life. All children need structure, some more than others. Some might need to be reminded more often or a different approach might be necessary, but
in the end it's all the same.
Why is it better than another sport or activity? Let me
start off by saying the words "art" and "sport" are quite different. An art is "any
activity regarded as a medium of imaginative or creative self-expression." A sport is "an activity involving
physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against
another or others."
component of martial arts for children with special needs is the competition
within themselves, not with others. Children with special needs must work on
life skills, not competing with others for a trophy. Thatâ€™s not to say they
shouldnâ€™t compete and receive those same rewards, because they should! However,
the criteria must be carefully considered and achievable. I am not a proponent
of "everyone wins" because failure is part of life. Life skills are why you
should consider martial arts, and if thatâ€™s all you receive you are a winner!
Letâ€™s talk about some benefits right now. Consistency and
repetition create familiarity and, therefore, children on the autism spectrum do well
with classes. Repetition of the
same location, same faces, same curriculum, and knowing what to expect are all
part of the recipe. With continuous structure, discipline and fun exercises, even
the child with multisensory issues almost immediately rises to the occasion.
Most children with special needs receive therapies on a
weekly basis. Adding a traditional martial arts program to their existing
therapies can only assist them in reaching their goals faster. Think about it;
when an instructor focuses on YOUR childâ€™s needs there is no doubt the results
are immediate. Focus, concentration, balance, tone, awareness, self regulation,
core strength, reduced anxiety, and spatial awareness are just a few of the
benefits your child will receive when you find the right do-jhang (studio).
Many programs for
typically developing kids are not suited for every child with special needs. Either the game cannot be played slowly enough, enough time cannot be devoted to learning the rules, adaptive equipment is not used, etc. So what
should we do? Prepare the child in the most non-restrictive way, which is one of the life skills we must always keep in our minds. Everyone
feels good when they know "something," so letâ€™s prepare our children for life before
tossing them in an unfamiliar situation.
I am sure you want to know the differences between one
martial art and another. There are several styles of Martial Arts and programs
available so getting educated is very important. Here are a few things
to look for when selecting a location for your child:
Reputation and experience in the industry
Programs specific to your child's needs
and not just "we handle special needs"
Adult and experienced instructors on the floor
Ample assistants and coverage on the floor
Therapists or teachers on staff, or instructors
with backgrounds of such are a plus
Small rooms, small groups and less distractions
Offer inclusion programs and advancement
Opportunities to attend two or more times per week
Private lesson packages (not semi-private) that
provide an opportunity for the instructor and child to become familiar with
each other prior to decision making
and supported by a national organization
tuition schedules due to changes in therapies and unforeseen personal issues
events that provide social interaction with other students
It is my belief that all styles of martial arts are good;
the question is which style is the right one for your family. If the
instructor is compassionate, patient, understanding, experienced and willing to
dedicate his or her life to your child then thatâ€™s the place to be. Regardless
of the childâ€™s needs, learned behavior can only be achieved through behavioral
Thank you for taking the time to read my first in a series of articles. Look for a new one each month as many of your questions will surely be answered!