A Positive Outlook of Martial Arts and Aspergers
A mother shares her story…
When we were told that our sons had Asperger Syndrome, we were given a lot of papers and lists that included general things to expect as we raised them. It was a little bit overwhelming! Reading the pages I couldn’t help but feel as though the world had very low expectations for my very bright little boys. I will spare you a lot of the details and focus on what these pages said about typical physical limitations.
To say that sports seemed almost out of the question would be an understatement. We were told that the boys would have low muscle tone and very little core muscle strength. Poor posture and clumsy coordination would also be a hindrance. It was also suggested that if they perceived an activity as difficult they would probably quit and not stick with it.
Additionally, our children would probably have very low stamina and they would not be able to carry out any type of sustained physical activity. We should expect that they would tire easily and become frustrated. They would also be easily distracted, lose their focus, and have a tough time following instructions with more than two or three commands.
The list went on. They would not be able to balance properly, they would have poor “motor planning”, (that is a fancy term for completing an exercise that requires a series of movements to complete) they would not do well at activities that required them to cross their arm or leg across the middle of their bodies, or imitating an instructor.
I will admit that the boys did show a tendency toward all of these things. They could walk before they could sit up by themselves. They did tire easily and slouch. They were short on patience when they didn’t understand a concept – but they desired more for themselves and I was not about to hold them back because some “experts” wrote a bunch of intimidating lists. Rather than using the resources we were given as a guide to their limitations, I thought it would be better to consider these things difficulties to overcome if necessary.
Because the kids loved to be outdoors we got a trampoline and a big playground set with swings, slides, and ropes to climb. I had them swimming as soon as possible, and before long they had built up some core strength and their gross motor skills were improving.
When they were about eight years old they saw commercials for Tiger Schulmann schools. They asked me (every day) if they could join. I could have looked at the lists and dismissed martial arts as a possibility for them. After all, it would require strength, stamina, focus, and the ability to follow multi-step instructions. Instead, I told them that they would have to work hard and pay very close attention to their instructors. This did not deter them – in fact, I think that my faith in their ability gave them an extra boost of confidence. We called the school and made an appointment to come in for a class at the local school.
Joshu Linda Tarsio took a little bit of time on that first day to show them a few of the basic moves they would be doing in class. When they got out on the mat, they were so nervous! They did not start out as MMA superstars by any means. They did have trouble with combinations, they did get tired, and they did sometimes lose their focus when Sensei Montes would address the class – but Sensei did what all excellent teachers do. He encouraged them to find their potential and to achieve it. He taught them that all good things come from hard work, a true desire for excellence, and a non-quitting spirit. He and some of the advanced students like Joshu Shane Burgos were wonderful role models. The boys could see that they trained hard, and they kept improving, too. As time went on my boys became stronger. Their combinations were smoother and they were far more focused.
It has been five years since the boys began their training. The shy, uncoordinated little boys who could barely stand up straight now have red belts. They are thirteen years old and take difficult adult classes. They stay after classes to work on sparring, grappling, and strength training. They began as ripe targets for bullies and now stand straight and tall with confidence. Their soft middles have been replaced by six-pack abs, and they can do amazing push ups, squats, and abs workouts.
All children on the autism spectrum have different paths and different outcomes, but I can say with confidence that for my children – Sensei Montes has been an excellent mentor and their experience at Tiger Schulmann’s has been life changing.
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