THE AUTISTIC CHILD AND TAE KWON DO
My seven year old son, Eric, is mildly autistic. In terms of being on the autistic spectrum, he is considered a "high functioning" autistic child. He attends regular class in a public school, and does pretty well with a few obstacles that his teachers have worked hard helping him over come.
Each autistic child and his or her situation is unique in many ways. Autism varies in severity and is why it is called the autistic spectrum. Autistic kids also seem to have one or two areas of expertise or interest. My son's has always been light and fans. I cannot imagine what is so spectacular about lights and fans other than they give us light to no longer be in the dark and cool us off when we are hot--other than that, they hold nothing to most of us.
Eric's problem at school is not a problem with his intelligence, although autistic children do not tend to do well on IQ test, his issue is being distracted by the lights in his classroom and therefore, focuses less on the teacher. So yes, the problem is focus, but not for focus sake, but because when one is entrenched on lights and the buzzing sounds those lights make, one is less inclined to be focused on the lesson the teacher is teaching.
My husband and I were looking for some method or training to help Eric with his focus issues. We had discussed tae kwon do, but wondered if he would enjoy it. Last fall, we were at a fair and saw a tae kwon do booth. The school was offering a free uniform and two weeks of lessons for five dollars. We could not let this chance pass us by. We felt there was nothing to lose.
We enrolled Eric into tae kwon do classes and hoped that the structure would work to our advantage to help with his focus issues. In the beginning the classes were really rocky. Eric constantly starred up at the lights instead of giving his attention to the instructors. I commend the staff at the school we chose. They never gave up on him. It was all about finding the right school with determined instructors. After a few weeks, they asked if they could pull Eric out of the class for a couple of weeks and work with him one on one. During that time, the instructors worked with eye focus and body focus.
The first few months of tae kwon do were painful. Nothing made Eric stand out so much as being around so many "normal" kids in one room. To see just how different he was pained us. He constantly had his hands in his mouth. He would look up at the lights and not follow the instructors' directions as well as the other kids.
One class, I was feeling particularly down about having such a different kid or hypersensitive as I call it. Eric was not having a good class at all. His focus was not there and he was being silly. Admittedly, I was very sensitive this particular day. There was a woman sitting next to me, obviously totally oblivious to the fact that Eric was my child because she laughed at him much of the time. I could feel heat from the embarrassment rise to my face. And then a sadness. The sadness was for the first time I realized he would be laughed at because of how autism affects him and his behavior sometimes. Autism has made him different. It will make him stand out. I hope we teach him it makes him unique and we tell him God made him special.
After a few days, I was over the incident, or had at least put it behind me. I was sitting next to a parent who had two kids in the same class. We began to talk. Somehow the issue of this woman laughing at Eric came up and the parent I was talking to was furious. She told me she had been sitting on the other side of the woman that day and was getting angry with her. She told me she was just before saying something to the woman. So maybe I was not so over sensitive, but just a protective parent. It has been wonderful so many of the parents who have children in Eric's class have been incredibly supportive of him and his progress. And I found out that day, they are even a little protective of him.
Slowly things began to turn. Eric thrived on the repetitive nature of class and his focus became better and his participation improved.
Now ten months later, he will look people in the eye a little better. His focus in some ways has improved. We have always viewed tae kwon do as a therapy for Eric. Our gamble paid off. He loves class. This is important since class is four times a week. On top of that, On Tuesday, August 25th, Eric will be testing for the first time for his yellow belt.
I cannot say that tae kwon do is for every autistic child. We know every child, especially with autism, is different. Each autistic child has their specific issues, but I recommend looking into tae kwon do. The discipline and respect that can be reinforced at a respectable school with the right instructors who understand where your child is and his potential, can reap bountiful rewards for your child. Autistic children thrive on routine, which tae kwon do provides. The key will be to find the right school as we did. The most important thing, however, is to never accept any limitations on your child even if he or she has autism.