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How Martial Arts Helps Children with Developmental Disorders

Teaching Your Child to Conquer Their Disorder Through Karate As a parent, your biggest wish is for your child to lead a happy and fulfilling […]

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Teaching Your Child to Conquer Their Disorder Through Karate

As a parent, your biggest wish is for your child to lead a happy and fulfilling life. But if your child has autism or another developmental disorder, it can be difficult to find activities they can participate in, or to help them fit in with their peers.

Parents often overlook activities like martial arts out of fear that their child will get hurt, not realizing how beneficial it can be. Enrolling in karate has many benefits for children with developmental disorders, and can even help them build important life skills that they can transfer to other areas of their life.

How Karate Can Help Children with Certain Disorders:

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)/Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia (or DCD) is a movement disorder experienced by five to six per cent of children between six and 12 years old. Children suffering from DCD generally do not exhibit medical or neurological conditions, which can be used to explain the condition.

There are many reasons children with DCD might struggle with physical activities, especially sports involving ball skills or the manipulation of objects. They experience difficulties with hand-eye coordination, particularly in situations where they must respond to things in their environment that are moving. Because of this, your child may become discouraged and lose interest in physical activity in general.

Karate is beneficial for children with DCD – especially young children – as it promotes body and spatial awareness, flexibility, balance, strength, and endurance. Children with DCD tend to have more success with individual sports than with team sports. Karate allows your child to concentrate on adapting their own bodies in relation to their environment without having to worry about manoeuvring around others. Karate also improves vestibular functions, increases stability and improves lower limb strength.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

The most common form of neurological disorder in children, ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests as excessive activity, difficulty in paying attention, and lack of impulse control.

There are many ways karate can help children manage ADHD. Since attention and focus is critical to learning karate, over time your child will learn concentration and self-control in a structured learning environment. Karate also focuses on individual growth, which takes the pressure off your child of having to compete with their peers and reduces the likelihood that they will lose interest in the sport.

Not only that, but karate techniques are taught in small chunks, which is a lot more manageable for a child with ADHD. Finally, karate will give your child an outlet for releasing all that built-up energy.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism is a developmental disorder affecting brain development and function. Children on the autism spectrum tend to exhibit restricted communication skills and repetitive or restricted behavioural patterns. A child on the spectrum may lack the social skills required for team sports, and if they have difficulty following the rules, they may feel left out.

But karate focuses on the development of physical and cognitive skills, including attention and self-control. Most kids with autism prefer having a routine, because routines help them know what to expect. Karate provides that structured learning environment, with tangible and consistent milestones for your child to aspire to. Karate also helps their coordination, strength, and body awareness, just as it does for everyone.

Many karate instructors are specifically trained to train kids on the spectrum. The focus and concentration required for the sport can also help curb behaviours caused by overstimulation such as refusal to make eye contact, hand-flapping, rocking, and repetitive sounds, words, and phrases.


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain that causes sudden episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions (seizures). Often, a child suffering from epilepsy will struggle with feelings of alienation or “otherness” due to the unpredictability of seizures, frequent hospitalization and side effects from treatment that come with the condition.

However, karate fosters peer admiration and positive reinforcement through shared achievements, which in turn contributes to a more positive sense of self. Participating in this peer group helps remove the stigma of “otherness” and normalizes the shared experience of epilepsy. This stimulates a constructive learning environment that will allow your child to excel with confidence.

If you are upfront with your child’s karate instructor about their condition, they will likely be more than happy to make the appropriate accommodations to reduce the risk of seizure for your child during class.

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome (sometimes known as Down’s syndrome or trisomy 21) occurs when a child is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome. This causes various physical and mental developmental delays and disabilities.

Due to their decreased cardiovascular fitness and exercise capacity, children with Down Syndrome are often at a higher risk of developing health issues such as heart disease, sleep disturbances, and obesity. As it would with anyone else, karate helps minimize the risk of these problems. It can also drastically improve the capacity for muscle strength, balance, and cardiovascular fitness early in life, which will in turn allow these things to come more easily later on.

Children with Down Syndrome often need to be supervised while exercising, which makes karate the ideal sport. Karate provides more opportunities for close supervision and one-on-one attention than a team sport would. Because karate is largely an individual sport, instructors can easily alter the programming based on the individual needs of the students.

Despite karate’s individualized nature, practicing in a group environment allows for a collective sense of pride and accomplishment when your child nails a tricky move or completes a milestone.

Additional Benefits of Karate:

Karate can be incredibly rewarding for any child’s mental and physical health. Not to mention, it can be a therapeutic experience for a child who has difficulty expressing themselves in other ways. Although karate offers a host of physical and mental benefits to anyone of any age, there are some benefits that are uniquely important for children with developmental disorders. They include:

  • Consistency and routine
  • Building confidence
  • Helping kids develop social skills
  • Focus and concentration
  • Improved motor skills & coordination
  • Self-control and discipline
  • One-on-one attention

It’s all too easy for a child with a developmental disorder to fall into harmful patterns of thinking, especially when naysayers are all too eager to tell them what they can’t do. But don’t be deterred. If your child with a developmental disorder expresses interest in trying martial arts, they may uniquely benefit from the experience.

Your child may struggle more than their peers and the road may be longer for them, but everyone’s path in karate is different. With help and support from your child’s instructors and their fellow classmates, your child will be equally capable of getting that black belt. It may require more dedication and sacrifice, along with patient and qualified instructors, but remember: a winding river still joins the sea.

Scott Bullard