ActivePaper Archive Connecting with karate - Chattanooga, 8/14/2003

Connecting with karate

Children with autism seem to thrive in karate classes

Picture
Staff photo by Sarah Bonvallet

With help from counselor Meghan Chismark, left, 9-year-old Miles Moore practices a punch against karate teacher Corey Green during a special-needs karate lesson at Sunshine Camp at the Chattanooga YMCA.

Picture
Staff Photo by Sarah Bonvallet

Karate instructor Corey Green demonstrates how to break a hold with 14-year-old Arthur Bradley during a lesson at Sunshine Camp at the Chattanooga YMCA.

Ayear ago, Stefan "Stevie" Allen, an 8-yearold autistic child, threw things when he felt defeated. Now he does karate instead. "If he gets frustrated he will go in another room and practice," said his mother, Stephanie Sherard. "He’s been using these things to calm himself." Karate can be therapy for children with autism, said Corey Green, 25, who teaches special-needs children at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga’s downtown branch. "I don’t know why, but it’s really good for them," Mr. Green said. Autism is one of the most common developmental disorders, said Phillip Deal, president of the 100-member local chapter of Families for Early Autism Treatment. Many children with autism struggle with big muscle movements, communication skills and selfesteem, he added. Some have behavior problems because of their heightened frustrations, he said. Karate helps these children because it uses big muscles, builds self-esteem and provides structure and discipline, Mr. Deal said. Group activities are usually fun for any child, he added. "A ctivities like karate and soccer give kids with autism a chance to be with other kids," he said. "A nd obviously something ... they can be successful in can make them feel good about themselves." Just being in a class, doing things children like to do, is good for autistic children, Mr. Green agreed. "Kids need to feel accepted; they need to do things other kids do," he said. A generation ago, 90 percent of people with autism were institutionalized, according to experts. Today, children are being helped at an early age, which builds skills needed for more independent, active living, Mr. Green added. Chattanooga has seen more recreational opportunities for special-needs kids in the past few years, said Lisa Moore, director of education and outreach at Siskin Children’s Institute. With the help of the Siskin Institute, the YMCA began mainstreaming special-needs children at its day camps last year, she said. The city’s recreational centers now offer several programs such as wheelchair tennis. Parent activism drove these changes, the experts said. "Parents are being pro-active," Ms. Moore said. "They are making these things happen for these kids." Since he opened his first karate school in Alaska in 1996, Mr. Green said he has worked with kids with autism, hyperactivity, Down syndrome and other problems. "I started getting ADD, ADHD (hyperactive) students," he said. "It was neat." Mr. Green said he learned over the years to keep his classes small —usually five to eight children. The classes are also short, he said. Sometimes the children’s attention spans last no longer than 15 or 20 minutes. He said he adapts his program to each child and prepares for almost anything to happen. At a recent lesson, for example, a girl jumped onto his chest, threw her arms around him, then jumped away. "I’m like, OK, that’s hug No. 1 out of three (she gives in every class)," Mr. Green said. "It’s her way of showing affection." Stevie cried as he leaned and stretched. After a few minutes in class, he quieted down. Just as karate helps many types of people feel more confident and independent, specialneeds kids use their training to gain control of their world, Ms. Sherard said. "(Stevie) is learning he can handle a situation," she said. "He doesn’t always have to look to me." Melanie Fewell, whose 6-yearold son, Cullen, takes the class, said he liked it. "He has progressed so much just being in a class around his peers," she said. "He likes this a lot." Best of all, the children seem to have fun. Andrew Tindal, 6, smiled as he tried to touch his toes to his nose. Later, he hugged his mother. "I just like it," he said. E-mail Kathy Gilbert at kgilbert@timesfreepress.com