Kids with autism may have been excluded from participating in rigorous and intense sports, but martial arts is not one of these sports. Studies have proven and parents have reported the developmental progress of their autistic children due to martial arts training. Not only do motor skills and coordination improve, but also communication skills and self-esteem increase.
Kids with autism respond well to martial arts training and experience an encouraging range of progress in their ability to focus, make eye contact, and interact socially with their instructors and peers. Because of the rigidly structured environment of martial arts training, and the intensity involved, students on the autism spectrum increase their ability to concentrate. This ability to focus has proven to translate into other areas of the student’s life, including activities at school and at home.
Research conducted by the physical therapy department at the University of Wisconsin in 2010 showed how the potential in kids on the autism spectrum comes alive during training and common outcomes are improved balanced and coordination skills. Students with autism gain more strength in their bodies and the confidence to be able to defend themselves. They are also more willing to engage socially with each other and show cooperation. The exertion required in martial arts expends anxious or excess energy of kids with autism, releasing a sense of calm and enjoyment.
Another study headed by the owner of Nicklaus Martial Arts America Studio, Wisconsin, to find out the effects of martial arts training on students with autism also showed improvements in balance. Early in training, students on average kept their balance on one leg for 9 seconds and by the 11th week, they were able to balance for 19 seconds. Other findings included a decrease in negative behaviors and two thirds of the students increased their ability to play.
Additionally, martial arts has proven to treat the repetitive motor activities common among individuals on the autism spectrum. A study conducted by the University of Isfahan in Iran found that these repetitive behaviors decreased as the student with autism continued to train. Thirty children with autism were a part of the study, all of them exhibiting repetitive motor activity. Half of the kids were trained in kata (Japanese sequence of movements) and the other half were not. At the end of 14 weeks (and four sessions per week), there was a 42.54% reduction in repetitive behaviors from the original recorded baseline among those students who trained in kata.
There are martial arts instructors, like Al Loren, who advertise on their websites their ability to teach students with autism. The correlation between martial arts training and the increase of multiple abilities in kids with autism has been observed by parents, proven by studies, and experienced by the students on the autism spectrum.
You can follow Al Loren on Twitter at @TherapyAl