By a Parent and Student at Family Martial Arts
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning difficulties and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
Martial Arts, with its long standing traditions of self control and discipline, has seen a recent surge in popularity and the full time, professionally run, Family Martial Arts School in particular is providing many benefits for children with autism and for others who may have other learning or social interaction difficulties.
Working in education with children who experience diverse difficulties, including autism, I have read many articles extolling the benefits of Martial Arts, so I was interested to find out more I was recommended a programme being offered at the Family Martial Arts School in Maidstone. I contacted the school and went along to discuss the impact Martial Arts can have on children with Autism.
The core Martial Art at Family Martial Arts School is Taekwondo. This is a modern Martial Art from Korea, with roots going back thousands of years. The style is famous for its high kicks and fast hand techniques; ‘Tae’ means to strike with the foot or kick, ‘Kwon’ means to punch or strike with the hand, and ‘Do’ means art or method. Their children’s programmes place emphasis on learning Life Skills such as what ‘Respect’ means, how to earn it and how to show it.
Family Martial Arts School run to a planned curriculum, designed so that everyone from the beginner to those experienced in other arts can benefit from the classes.
I watched several classes and spoke with both parents and instructors of the children at the school and can now, first hand explain how I believe Martial Arts training is beneficial; Family Martial Arts provide very consistent and regular classes, similar in content, satisfying the need for routine and predictability. Basic training is always practised at each lesson and this repetition can be comforting with its structure and predictability making it the perfect form of exercise for anyone on the autistic spectrum.
The structure of a lesson is always similar in that there is a warm up, linework, some group work, and a cool down. The class is always held in the same place at the same time with the same instructors. It was good to see that, whilst learning the basic moves, children felt comfortable because there was no need for physical contact between students and only verbal instruction from the coaches making it less intimidating.
The instructors are trained to work with children on the autistic spectrum and always set a good example to the students. They always speak calmly, clearly and don’t shout other than in a positive, motivational way. Respect is paramount in the classes. I was pleased to see that each child’s achievement is continually recognised, with no judgements being made against others. Class sizes are managed sensitively to the needs of all students.
The consensus of opinion from both parents and instructors is that the benefits are immense and in the course of learning martial arts the children with autism not only came out of their shells but also grew more socially assertive and co-operative. They exhibited better balance and motor coordination, eye contact and play skills improved.
The classes allow them to develop the ability to concentrate and focus their attention in a consistent and highly structured environment. Additionally parents have found that new skills are carried over into school and home. The release of energy in a safe environment can bring a sense of calm. Friendships are formed around a shared activity and a sense of belonging is invaluable.
After watching several classes and being excited by what I saw, I have signed up both myself and my children to a weekly family class which we are enjoying immensely. Family Martial Arts School is friendly and very welcoming and we have quickly become part of the school, my boys have made new friends and it is a great start to our weekend.
Telephone: 07775 671585 / 01622 663030