Use Martial Arts to Manage ADHD, Asperger’s & Other Issues

8-10-15 Hampton, Bryan (Giannavola, Alison) HS

Our Guest Expert this week is the 23 year old Operations Manager and Head Instructor at Atlanta Kick, a well-established karate and kickboxing studio in Atlanta, GA. He has struggled with the challenges of ADHD his whole life. He is the poster child for ADHD in his studio, and a model for success.

I am a prime example of how martial arts can have a huge, positive impact on children, especially children with mental, emotional and physical challenges. As an active and wild child, martial arts and physical activity became my primary method for managing my ADHD.

As a karate instructor, I have worked with hundreds of kids with a wide range of challenges, like ADD/ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome, and sensory processing issues. Martial arts has been able to help all of these kids in some common ways.


What Martial Arts Offers to “Complex” Kids

What exactly does martial arts teach, besides punching and kicking? Why would you choose martial arts over baseball or soccer?

Unlike most team sports, martial arts are focused around an individual’s personal growth, rather than comparison to others. This makes martial arts a great outlet for children in general, and particularly helpful for children with challenges. “Team” sports have a heavy focus on physical development focused on helping children become better at a single sport. Martial arts focus on four fundamental areas of growth:

  1. Social development – Teaching the importance of leadership, teamwork, respect, accountability and honesty. Through in class drills and mat chats, instructors talk about key points of leadership development. Students learn how to communicate with one another in an effective manner. Giving requirements to kids with ADD/ADHD builds responsibility and independence. Holding them accountable for their actions is a huge step in their development.
  1. Emotional development– Building self-confidence, mental/physical control, courage and perseverance (what I believe to be one of the most important lessons we teach). Students are challenged to go above and beyond the expectations they have set for themselves, encouraged to never give up on their goals, never letting limitations or setbacks stop them from becoming successful. For children with ADD/ADHD, mental/physical control can be very difficult to manage. Martial arts engage and stimulate the mind and body from start to finish.
  1. Intellectual Development- Learning how to focus and training to become self- disciplined. (Focus was the main reason why my parents enrolled me in martial arts). Since our kids with ADD/ADHD constantly struggle with focusing and staying on task, we treat the brain just like every other muscle in the body, pushing it to its limits with memory and concentration games, as well as educating each student in how to apply every skill we learn in the studio, at home, at school and everywhere else they go.
  1. Physical Development- Training the body to have balance, speed, agility, flexibility, strength and coordination. Every class is a challenge, working on a range of important health and fitness aspects that apply to every sport and physical activity. Everything we teach creates a strong foundation of functional movements that enhances athleticism. Physical activity is one of the best releases for children with ADD/ADHD. It helps stimulate the brain for better focus and performance.

All of these areas of development are applicable to every aspect of life. For children with ADD/ADHD, learning how to implement these is particularly important, as it enables them to embrace the positive traits of ADD/ADHD and challenge the negative ones.

We teach our students to be role models and to strive for greatness, to take challenges head on and believe in themselves no matter what differences they have. One of our students, for example, who struggles with Asperger Syndrome, has learned how to better communicate with his peers in just 4 months of being in our program. He once struggled to hold a continuing conversation, and now he was recently awarded for his ability to read “Charlotte’s Web” — with confidence and enthusiasm — to his entire class at school.

Martial Arts as “Medication”

As a practitioner of martial arts for 20 years, I realize now that it has been my main form of “medication” for my ADHD. The lessons I have learned are priceless. They have helped me cope with every struggle I have encountered thus far.

I have seen that for the children I work with, too. I truly believe that if you enroll your kids in Martial arts classes, the outcome will be one of the most beneficial things you can do for them. I hope you’ll try it and see :). And just to encourage you further – here are some keys to help you find a school that will be a good fit for your kid.


What to Look for in a Karate/Martial Arts Studio

  1. Age specific programs– some schools put all the kids together in one class, which can be frustrating for children. Look for schools that pair up the ages into separate groups: 3-4, 5-6, 7-9 and 10-14.
  1. Pre-evaluation/ assessment test– find a school that does an assessment before the first class. This gives the child, parent and instructor time to meet and establish a relationship, and it also helps get the student comfortable with new surroundings. You’ll also get a feel for whether that instructor’s personality will be a good fit for your child’s learning style. Finally, it will give both you and the instructor a good idea of where your child is in the four areas of development, and will be a good baseline for placement.
  1. Student to instructor ratio– Make sure that the school has at least two instructors per class. For children’s classes it is imperative that they get as much individual attention as possible. More instructors means more feedback for the students, and more positive relationships to build with your child.

Have fun!– The most important factors in a child’s success are motivation, drive and simply enjoying what they do. If a child has fun, she will immediately have a desire to work harder. Make sure that she is enjoying the atmosphere and style of classes. Not all schools are created equal, and not all are right for

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