A recent and growing trend that has provided many benefits for children on the autism spectrum involves their engagement in karate and other martial arts.
A 2010 research project conducted by the University of Wisconsin physical therapy department confirmed what parents were already reporting - in the course of learning martial arts, children with autism essentially came out of their shells and grew more socially assertive and cooperative. They exhibited better balance and motor coordination, eye contact improved and play skills were further developed. Greater self-esteem was also reported, with the added bonus of these kids being able to defend themselves, if need be.
Karate and martial arts assist kids on the autism spectrum with the ability to concentrate and focus their attention in a consistent and highly structured environment. Additionally, parents find that new skills carry over into home and at school. The release of energy in a safe and ritualized environment can bring a child to a new sense of calm. Friendships are formed around a shared activity and that sense of belonging can be the greatest reward of all.
If contemplating martial arts for your child, it's always good to consult with his or her doctor prior to beginning any physical training. Observe the class before committing your child to it. It should be small and solely for children with autism, at least initially. Higher functioning children may be able to integrate into regular classes immediately. Confer with the instructor about your child's needs and make sure you feel you can successfully partner with them.
Once your child is underway, have them practice at home in a no pressure environment and offer encouragement and reinforcement for the moves they have already learned. A demonstration for siblings or other relatives will also go a long way in building confidence and self-esteem.
Martial arts offers therapeutic rewards and parents will enjoy the fact that their child can participate in activities that other kids take for granted. And with summer fast approaching, it just may be the perfect activity to consider.