Martial Arts and Autism (and not autism)

by beagooddad on June 2, 2008

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We are considering signing the kids up for a martial arts class. A local place came to Geetle’s school’s Family Night one time and taught a little one night class which the kids loved. They also have a try us free for a month before actually signing up offer that we are doing right now.

Thursday was the first class.

Pookie had a lot of trouble. The class has about 25 people from ages about 4 to 50. Besides being in a new environment, the noise and all of the activity clearly made it hard for Pookie to participate. He was constantly wandering around the mat and very infrequently actually doing what he was supposed to be doing.

Geetle on the other hand was standing on her dot and attempting everything very well. No matter what we end up deciding for Pookie (more on that in a second), I think there is a good chance we will sign Geetle up. It is a good work out, it teaches listening to directions, it develops a need for practicing in order to learn the skills so you can advance to the next belt. Plus, it never hurts for people to know some basic self defense. And more importantly, she had a blast.

Back to Pookie. The teachers do a very good job of keeping parents off the mat. Everybody in the class knows that you listen to Master Kim and only Master Kim or the assistants that help with the class. This is extremely important for a physical class with kids. I’ve never been to a kids class or sport where the parents actually just sat there and watched instead of constantly telling their kids to pay attention to the teacher or stop wandering off over there.

All of that is a good environment for Pookie. Unfortunately, it is also a place that very quickly overloads Pookie’s senses. Plus, he doesn’t know what he is supposed to be doing.

And then there is the issue of actually teaching his body how to do the movements.

Remember Wii bowling? We had to actually teach him by physically forcing his body through the motions.

I think that if we could spend a few weeks actually physically forcing his body through the motions during the class there is a very good chance he would pick up the concepts and have a much greater chance of being able to not become overwhelmed during the class which would help him be able to remember to stay in his spot.

The instructors don’t seem to understand that Pookie is not a typical 5 year old boy that likes to wander. Even though we have explained the autism and sensory stuff, I don’t think they understand that just asking him to get back on his spot and then verbally explaining the moves will not be enough. But they have really only seen him one time.

I’m going to ask them if they are able to provide that kind of interaction for a while while Pookie learns or if I can join Pookie on the mat to help him along.

Up until yesterday, I was pretty much planning on not signing Pookie up for anything long term just because I didn’t think he would be able to figure it out before he got frustrated and gave up. After all, he couldn’t even handle Wii bowling. Yesterday, however, I watched him bowl an entire game of Wii bowling entirely by himself. There are still moments where we have to remind him to stand on his spot, etc. But we no longer have to touch his hand or elbow or even be near him at all.

I think that if we can provide the same sort of assistance in his martial arts class, he can get to the same level of competence. And I know that if we can get to that he will have learned the main things that we are hoping to get out of the classes. Being able to stay in one spot. Being able to follow a teacher’s directions.

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