Autism and Taekwondo

How Can TaeKwonDo Help Kids with Autism?

Autism and Taekwondo

Talking about having kids practice Taekwondo when they have Autism can be confusing as some are unaware of the benefits of this Martial Art with child with Autism.

So, how can Taekwondo help kids with Autism? Autism spectrum disorder is a term that refers to individuals who have difficulties with communication and social interaction. With the right attitude and motivation, Taekwondo can be beneficial to the mental, physical, and social growth of any kid with Autism Spectrum

There can be a wide variation in presentations of these “symptoms,” which is where the word “spectrum” comes into play. Now, the question on your mind is, “Since TaeKwondo relies heavily on repetitive movements and sequences, how will it improve the well being of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder?”

Taekwondo and Autism

I am not a fan of labeling people with “disabilities,” hence for the rest of this article, I will only refer to the “autism spectrum” rather than use phrases such as “those disabled” or “people with.” It is a part of life, and I have had personal experiences with people on the Autism spectrum who lead lovely lives.

It won’t be right to diminish their humanity by using pejorative language; instead, this article will focus on the potential everyone has with the help of my favorite martial arts style, taekwondo.

Even though Taekwondo is considered more a martial art then a “sport,” it provides various benefits physically, socially, and mentally for children with ASD. It is said that kids with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty with communication and social interaction in outdoor settings. Some children also tend to display “obsessive” repetitive movements, words, and phrases.

Autism and The Social Benefits of Taekwondo

Children with ASD are often “protected” from extracurricular activities, which makes their current social issues harder to overcome. A typical Taekwando class is designed to serve the requirements of children of all ability levels without the pressure that comes with being involved in a team sport.

The mere fact that they are included in a wholesome, non-judgmental, low-pressure social environment that is vested in bringing out the best in every kid can help a child enjoy this particular type of group setting.

While every kid is different, children with ASD are more likely to benefit from the improved confidence, social interaction, and discipline associated with Taekwando classes.

Taekwando teaches kids better self-control and increased focus on tasks. This increase in mental strength should come in handy when they attempt to solve problems. It also provides a better understanding of crucial character traits such as courtesy and integrity, traits that are valued in the Taekwando community.

Social skills can be quite difficult for children with ASD to master, but the sense of family associated with Taekwando classes fosters true friendship between students.

Most Taekwondo Dojang – the name for martial arts training halls – often organize Dojang picnics, movie nights, and parties that will undoubtedly improve the social skills and ability to connect with others.

Expansion in Mental Capacity

To the untrained eye – haha, forgive me for getting all Karate kid – the activities such as running, kicking, and jumping performed in the classes seem only to bolster coordination and improve fitness; however, these moves also provide significant sensory stimulation for kids with ASD.

Sensory seeking, such as jumping, barging into stuff, rolling on surfaces, and other physical stims peculiar to people with ASD, respond positively to physical activity.

If you are with autism spectrum disorder and sensory seeking, the muscular and mental stimulation that is a hallmark of Taekwando will make your experience very enjoyable.

A prevalent feature in the Autism spectrum is repetitive and stereotyped movements, which is exciting for a different reason. Repeated practice is the base of skilled learning – how we all get better at motor skills. This applies to traditional martial arts training as well.

Knowing this, it is easy to assume that repetitive physical training involving routines such as repeated kicks, lunches, blocks, and repeated patterns will make things worse. But apparently not!

Although there is limited scientific evidence to counter this question, there is just enough to answer it. Additionally, there is the anecdotal experience of teachers and observers who have interacted with children in a martial arts environment.

Despite the neurobiological makeup of people with ASD, it is quite clear that defined martial arts training can be an effective form of movement training for those with ASD. There is growing evidence that martial arts-based training which bolsters mental and physical integration can be highly efficient.

This, and other activities that promote repetitive moves involving the whole body, such as jogging, yoga, swimming, and dance, create many avenues through with children with ASD can reach their peak potential.

Improves Physical Conditioning

While the social difficulties of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder get the most attention, children with this condition suffer from physical delays as well, especially in the areas of motor planning, balance, and gross motor skills.

Even though many kids with ASD undergo physical therapy as a part of their comprehensive treatment plan, they can improve their skills in these areas by participating in activities that will enhance coordination and balance.

Taekwondo is one of the best ways to accomplish this. The focus on basic skill-building is an integral part of the Taekwando community and thus helps students with special needs to succeed.

Motor planning occurs naturally to a lot of kids. Still, children with ASD have difficulty executing simple actions and processes that a lot of kids don’t even think about before performing.

The ability to plan and execute an action such as swinging a bat or climbing stairs requires a significant amount of motor planning – something that regular kids don’t even process before doing.

Taekwando bridges this gap by putting everyone on the same level when they start learning a new skill, by allowing children with an Autism spectrum disorder to work at the favored pace.

As the student learns the basics of Taekwando, he or she will automatically practice valuable motor planning processes and skills that can be used in real life.

Final Thoughts

I understand that everyone’s journey is personal, which means there are no guarantees. However, over the years, I have personally met students with ASD that excelled at Taekwando, and some even made it to black belt status! True story.

It often takes years of true partnership with the instructor, parents, and the kid. It’s a significant investment, no doubt. But, with the right attitude and motivation, Taekwondo can be a contributing factor to the mental, physical, and social growth of any child with Autism Spectrum