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Understanding Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

For those of you who have kept up with my recent blogs, you know I’ve been reflecting on the ways JK Martial Arts helps special learners. As I wrote in a previous blog, every person is unique and has unique ways of learning.

This is especially true of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In my research to understand how students with ASD learn, I discovered there really is no specific formula. The best approach is to learn how the student learns best, and then adapt lessons accordingly. This is exactly how we do things at JKMA.

Students with ASD tend to favor structured, calm and predictable environments. Change usually is very difficult for them and often induces feelings of anxiety.

At JKMA, we use a methodical approach to teaching karate, so lessons become routine. We teach in small detailed steps to match the precision that many people with ASD desire. The routine nature of the steps also provides students with a sense of calm.

Of course, repetition is helpful to all learners. Repeating the same audible cues has actually helped non-verbal students with ASD voice the steps out loud!

But too many repetitions can bore some students and provoke anxiety. Other students could become anxious if they learn and understand the moves but are unable to execute them with finesse and the full power they desire.

We strive to know each student’s triggers for anxiety so we can help them avoid it. For example, we will alter the number of repetitions a student does, based on his or her tolerance for repetition. We also set expectations in advance by telling students how many repetitions they will do that day.

Sensitivity to noise and light also can negatively impact learning for students with ASD. That is why we always speak to students with ASD in softer tones, or place them in a quieter area of the dojo. We may also use visual cues rather than verbal ones.

Some students with ASD have limited flexibility and strength. In these cases, we will provide more time for stretching and adapt stances and kicks for the students’ different abilities.

Finally, JKMA understands that some students with ASD may not be ready for a class with other people. That’s why we also offer private lessons, where students can practice karate in an environment more conducive to their success and prepare for the move to a class setting.

See the JKMA resources page for literature used in our research on special learners.

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