Sequencing, Taekwondo and Autism

My seven-year-old son with autism used to get confused when it came to sequencing. That was 3 years ago; he now is a pro at it. Well, a second-degree red belt pro that is. Yes, Taekwondo has done wonders for his ability to learn sequencing. It also helps with focus, attention, respect, community, self-defense, and self-esteem.  So if you’re not familiar with the practice of Taekwondo and why it helps kids on the spectrum with sequencing, let me explain how.

When students of Taekwondo earn their belt colors/testing, they must master the Taekwondo forms/patterns called Taegeuk for that belt level. There are eight Taegeuk (forms) in the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) that students learn and perform at testing for a color belt. This shows that the student can display their proficiency in individual techniques and the ability to perform techniques in a logical sequence.  The Taegeuk patterns are all intended to simulate multiple attacks coming at the student from all sides. Each Taegeuk has 18 techniques/steps to master.  The Taegeuk patterns become progressively more complex, and introduce more advanced techniques the higher you go.  By the time the student reaches black belt, they will have learned 8 Taegeuk forms, and must demonstrate a mastery of each in sequence for their black belt test. This is the goal of my seven-year-old with autism.

When my son began taking Taekwondo classes at age 5, I thought that perhaps this was an outlet for him to expend energy, learn to focus and pay attention to his master, and perhaps boost his self-esteem. Now keep in mind this studio is for neuro-typical kids and adults. My son is expected to behave, focus and attend just like all the other kids. The first few months were challenging and I thought that maybe we’ll be lucky if he gets to the next level after white belt (first belt), which is yellow belt. When I witnessed a yellow belt class practicing the first Taegeuk form and saw the 18 techniques taught in sequence, I thought that would put my son over the edge and would be the end of Taekwondo for him. Nope! Again, my son continues to amaze me with his perseverance, tenacity and just plain stubbornness.

He not only learned all 18 techniques in the proper sequence, he overcame his fears and did his first board breaking. Granted, he covered his ears due to the loud snap of the board, but he was only using his leg/foot to break the board, not his hands. Yet. Fast forward to a few more belt testings later, and he must now do the previous three Taegeuk forms, plus the new fourth one. Yep, he learned them with ease. He has mastered sequencing.

Now the board breaking technique for this belt test is knife hand strike, where he must break the board using one of his hands. I thought, how in the world is he going to get through this? He can’t cover both his ears AND break the board at the same time! Well, my son’s Taekwondo master is awesome. He worked with my son on this technique by using x-ray film sheets (that make loud sounds when hit) first. Slowly, he encouraged him in class to try the x-ray sheet with his knife hand strike while the other students were working out.

So when it came to testing and he had to stand up in front of the entire class and their parents to do this technique without covering his ears, it was effortless. He did it! And miraculously, his fear of the loud sound the board breaking makes was vanquished. Every belt test after that, he looked forward to board breaks with excitement and performed them without anxiety. Talk about a self-esteem booster!

We are 2 1/2 years into our son’s Taekwondo journey to black belt. Last week he tested for second degree red belt and passed his 7th Taegeuk form with flying colors. To date, he has learned seven forms with 18 techniques within each one! His board breaking technique was jump back spinning kick. Yes, a sequence again! And he mastered it so well, he broke the board on his first attempt. I can’t be more proud of his accomplishments in earning his Taekwondo belts. Next May (6 months) he will hopefully be ready for his black belt test.  My son, the black belt.  Oh, and he will have overcome his autism disability to obtain it. I’m already celebrating!

Update Nov. 2011 – my son the black belt!

 

If you live in the Santa Clarita Valley, in Southern California, I highly recommend the Tae Ryong Taekwondo Studio taught by Sr. Master Chad Moore. He is a sixth degree DAN black belt and a wonderful instructor. He has classes for all levels/abilities for children and adults. His website is www.taeryong.net.

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4 Responses

  1. That’s awesome! I can’t wait to get our little guy into martial arts!

  2. My son who is 5 is doing gymnastics. He really likes it, but I would love to try Taekwondo too! I live in Valencia and will definitely check out the Tae Ryong Taekwondo Studio! Thanks 🙂

  3. Do you have any clinical evidence that might support martial arts and its therapeutic value to children with autism. I’m wanting to present research to the developmental disabilities program in my state.
    Thanks for any direction you can offer,
    Elaina-Rose

    • I’m sure if you researched the internet, you’ll find anecdotal evidence from parents, but I’m not familiar with any research studies done on it…but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. One parallel you could draw is the statistics of kids on the spectrum that struggle with sequencing and how all Taekwondo forms are just that…a sequence of steps put in order.

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