Martial arts can play an important role in the life of a child with special needs. While sports and other activities can be helpful, those with special needs find the structure and discipline of the martial arts especially nurturing and productive.
Children need structure; it’s simply a way they learn how to function within the culture and context into which they are born. Boundaries help them determine what is acceptable and what can be tested. Children with special needs often need a different kind of structure, though it’s just as important to their development as to other children. Martial arts that are geared toward this special group of kids offers the opportunity to experience the mental and physical worlds around them in an environment that is conducive to their own individual needs and sensitivities.
Martial arts, no matter which you choose, are different from sports in a way that is especially important to kids with special needs: martial arts are a form of self-expression, an outlet for creativity, where the participants are focused on the mastery of skills, not the accumulation of medals. While levels of competition are appealing to some kids with special needs, it is internal competition that really gets these kids to rise to the occasion. Conquering a move or routine that has been difficult to learn can bring as much joy and self-confidence as a first-place trophy, and has a far-reaching impact.
Self-confidence is just one of the benefits of martial arts for children with special needs. Physically, kids can expect to increase motor control, balance, muscle tone, and core strength. Mentally, the benefits range from that self-confidence to improved concentration, self-discipline, self-awareness, and awareness of others. The right instructor, well-trained in working with particular special needs, can become a very important figure in the life of one of these kids. Knowing what to look for in an instructor is important, but not much different from what you’d look for in any child’s instructor or coach.
A martial arts program for special needs kids should be focused on a particular group of kids, not just all kids with various special needs. The program should have plenty of safeguards, including padded flooring, safety glass, and equipment modified for the needs of the kids. Additional instructors may be necessary to ensure all the kids have the attention and instruction they need.
As parents, one of our jobs is to give our kids a toolbox with some of the tools they’ll need to be successful in life, but we leave enough room in it for them to add their own. Combined with their regular therapies, special needs kids can flourish with the addition of martial arts in their lives. Give your special one the gift of martial arts, knowing it’s one of those tools they’ll use forever.