Saturday, November 19, 2011

Martial Arts Program


It is said that practicing martial arts can improve both the body and mind.  Did you know that martial arts can help children with autism?  Practicing simple routines can improve an autistic child’s focus and motor skills in other areas of life.

First offered in 2007, the OUCARES martial arts class does this and more.  Certified instructors teach self defense basics to a group of individuals with autism.  This fall, sensei or instructors are Richard Bole and Alissa Ignatius from Shelby Martial Arts Academy.

As with the dedication to any art, the practice of martial arts can really calm the mind while making the practitioner more aware of their bodily functions.  This is from an outsider’s perspective.  I have never practiced martial arts myself but I have done some reading.   From what I have read, it is clear to me that martial arts can really become a mindset.  You have to gain awareness that transcends from the type of awareness that everyone experiences.  Again, this is just my insight from an outsider’s perspective.

Some individuals with autism live in a sensory distorted world.  I think that this clear mindset obtained from martial arts, this acute awareness of the body, can really help in all areas of life.  I can relate my experience from a different area: playing the clarinet.  When I was a beginner, I had to constantly check my keys to make sure that my fingers were covering the right holes.  From the position the clarinet is played, the keys are outside of my range of vision so it takes extra effort to check fingerings. This is something a performer can’t do while playing on stage.  

This is the same in a child with autism.  While growing up on the spectrum, I had to constantly check with people: is this something I should say to a group of friends?  What do you say when someone tells you this?  I basically had to make up for my lack of natural social skills by asking many questions that one would not normally expect.  My autism is very mild, so I can just imagine how someone who has moderate to severe autism might act: there could be a lack of awareness of what their body is doing.  Someone with severe autism is swinging their arm around wildly, they are not aware of doing this.  Their mind is preoccupied with something other than what their arm is doing.

Through martial arts, I can imagine that an individual with autism would grow more comfortable and more aware of their own body.  They would become like me and the clarinet.  After playing that instrument for thirteen years, I no longer have to look at the keys to check if I am playing the right notes.  I am more aware of what I am doing because I have gained experience.  The martial arts camp offered by OUCARES can help individuals with autism to gain that experience, that mindset that might be difficult to obtain any other way.

For more information about the martial arts camp, visit the OUCARES website at www.oakland.edu/oucares.

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