There are many well documented reasons for involving children in a martial arts program, such as taekwondo, karate, etc., but it is not widely known that martial arts can be the perfect activity – and therapy – for children with special needs, specifically those with ADHD and autism. When it comes to our special needs children, martial arts training will provide all of the traditional benefits of martial arts (character education, improved fitness level, self-defense, etc.) and more.
A December 2000 New York Times article stated that martial arts can “help ease the symptoms of [ADHD]: impulsiveness, inability to concentrate and, in some cases, hyperactivity.” The New York Times article goes on to say that “the martial arts demand a kind of concentration that forces coordination of the attention centers in the brain…” and that the repetitive, structured nature of martial arts facilitate coordination.
With respect to martial arts for children on the autism spectrum, a 2010 research project conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that in the process of learning martial arts, children became more socially assertive and cooperative. In addition, the study found that the children demonstrated better balance and coordination; eye contact improved; and better play skills developed.
Experts believe that martial arts training augments the benefits of commonly prescribed medication the special needs child may be taking, creating a synergistic effect that is greater than the benefit of medication alone.
We developed our “No Limits” program for special needs students eight years ago and have seen firsthand the positive impact martial arts training has had on hundreds of special needs children. The benefits of the program are abundant, not only for the student, but for the parents and caregivers as well. For students and instructors alike, it’s one of the most rewarding classes in our studio.
By Kelly Metz, General Manager of CIMA Studios in Gaithersburg, MD