Teaching Aikido to Special Needs Students

If your child has a developmental disability, the therapist has probably recommended that your child’s therapy be supplemented with a sensory diet. You may consider martial arts so your child can learn how to move with other children, create physical boundaries, be aware of others’ boundaries, and resolve conflicts without fighting. Children who have autism and other sensory integration disorders, anxiety disorders, and other rare genetic disorders can benefit from martial arts like aikido.

Why Aikido?

Aikido is a non-violent, modern martial art that helps deal with the aggression of an attacker without harming the individual. Aikido techniques enable the practitioner to redirect the energy of the attacker to throw him off or take him down to the ground. The momentum of the attacker provides the strength and energy for aikido techniques, making it an ideal martial art for children, girls, and people in general who do not have a lot of physical strength.

The aikido practitioner is trained to restore harmony, making it a popular martial arts of choice for people who are not interested in inflicting harm on other people. Parents of aikido students discover that the arts help their children become focused, calm, and grounded. It’s modeled for students using martial arts as an excuse to pick fights is contrary to the spirit of aikido. Instead, the students learn that it’s better to prevent fighting in the first place. This principle is beneficial to children, especially as many of them are exposed to violence in video games and television.

Benefits of Aikido for Special Needs Students

For students with special needs, aikido might be pretty demanding, especially for those who lack social and physical awareness. But when the skills they can gain from aikido are broken down, they can offer a clearer path to greater awareness. Here’s what aikido can provide for special needs students:

Offers a wealth of sensory stimulation

Aikido is useful to occupational therapists because it exposes the child to various sensory stimulation. Ukemi, or the art of failing, is vital to aikido. Since aikido techniques primarily consist of throwing off an attacker, it follows the practice of learning how to fall safely. Most of the time it’s accomplished with a forward or backward roll. This improves the sense of balance, as well as tactile contact with the mat.

Improves physical coordination

The movements learned and physical skills developed through aikido will offer improvements in trunk control and balance. It teaches posture, weight shifting, foot, and hand movements to students.

Develops emotional resilience

Aikido helps students develop a kind of emotional resilience. Through the sport, they learn that they can fall and not necessarily get hurt and bounce up again. It helps them in real-life situations when other children or bullies might hurt them.

Develops a sense of self-movement and body position

Students of aikido get up from the ground from a roll that essentially pushes themselves up, providing themselves with a sense of self-movement and stimulation to the knees, hips, and shoulders. They also learn to joint locks to immobilize their partners, which gets further proprioceptive input.

Develops their interpersonal skills

In aikido, students practice their techniques with their partners, trading off roles of nage (the person who does the technique) and uke (the attacker). Students learn how to take turns, improving their interpersonal skills. They also learn to respond to verbal and physical feedback and be sensitive to their partner’s movements.

Aikido for Autism

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects communication and social interaction skills. It tends to present early in life, and its symptoms are not well understood. Usually, children with autism suffer from hyper-perception, memory, and attention. Also, they cannot perform as well as their peers in school, which creates stress for them.

Studies have shown that reducing stress levels can produce improvement in symptoms for many diseases. In the case of autism, getting them to reduce stress by engaging in games that mimic the meditative experience like aikido will help. It also helps improve their social and interpersonal skills.

Aikido for ADHD

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is an illness characterized by hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. People with this disorder are excessively attached to enjoyable experiences, causing them to lose focus on one task and jump on another. If the child does find enjoyment with a specific task, the condition directs the mind to latch on the task with intensity, impairing the mind’s function.

Usually, children with ADHD are intelligent, but they need to discipline their minds to overcome this challenging medical condition. The solution for ADHD is to balance the mind between under and over focus. If a child’s mind wanders off a task in aikido, such as avoiding a strike, the child must learn to redirect their minds back to the task. If the child becomes hyper-focused, they might get hit by the attacker’s other hand, so they must focus and relax. Besides reducing stress and building confidence, aikido activities will bring a child with ADHD to a better, healthier focus.

Training Methods for Children with Special Needs

The main focus of martial arts training methods is to bring a student to a balanced mental state through activities and games, which substantially reduces stress. The goal is to bring the child to proper balance. Some may need to let go of excess energy, while others may need an activity that calms and quiets their mind.

Once they develop a balanced mental state, the instructors will focus on the development of skills. Games and aikido techniques are practiced to increase muscle tone, develop physical coordination, sensory awareness, impulse control, and their ability to follow instructions.  It also improves their self-confidence as the children find that they can accomplish more tasks than they thought possible. The increase in confidence can also lead to lower stress in a learning environment.

Social development is improved too and is promoted through various interactions with other children in class as well as the ability to attend other classes.

Some dojos also provide visual supports to support learning in children. Instructors can use pictures of techniques and storybooks to help children learn from a visual approach. The modalities of yoga are also introduced in aikido.