It is easy to acknowledge that each child is unique and possesses their own set of strengths and challenges. On occasion, it can be difficult to find the right activities and programs outside of school to work on those strengths and challenges, especially for neurodivergent children.
Neurodivergent children may experience differences in neurological functioning and might not feel comfortable in what we would consider a “traditional” environment: therefore, it’s crucial to seek out programs that not only support their individuality but also promote their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
One such option that has shown enormous potential in empowering neurodivergent children is martial arts.
Martial arts offer more than just self-defense techniques and physical fitness. It instills discipline, boosts self-confidence, and provides a structured environment for personal growth both inside the world of martial arts as well as outside. However, not all martial arts programs are created equal, and finding the right one for neurodivergent children requires careful consideration.
We want to shed light on the key factors to keep in mind when choosing a martial arts program tailored to the unique needs and abilities of children with learning challenges and give you some tips and tricks to seeking out the perfect match.
What Type of Environment is Right for My Child?
It goes without saying that as a parent, we seek out environments for our children that are supportive and inclusive. While there are times when we want to challenge our children to grow, it doesn’t mean that we must sacrifice their comfort in exchange for their ability to learn.
The instructors and staff of any learning environment should embrace diversity and have a genuine interest in working with neurodivergent children. Talk to the instructors and observe them to gauge their understanding, patience, and ability to adapt teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles.
Our instructors have a combined experience of over 60 years working with neurodivergent children and understand how the learning process can differ. It’s important to have a dialogue with a potential instructor to determine their ability to teach and support your child.
If you choose an online program, reach out to the instructors virtually and express your concerns. Online martial arts is a much more flexible and safe option when it comes to providing support and inclusion for neurodivergent learners. Practice can be done in the comfort of your home on your own time versus adhering to the schedule of a physical dojo that may make consistent attendance difficult. In addition, due to the nature of online learning being self-paced, the worry of falling behind or feeling anxious about progress is erased.
If your child tends to feel extreme social anxiety, first consider an online program before venturing into an environment that they may find intimidating or difficult to manage. A more accommodating environment will inevitably point your child towards success and a more fruitful, less stressful learning experience.
Many neurodivergent children have sensory sensitivities, and this can be a difficult hurdle to overcome when seeking out learning opportunities.
Look for a program that takes sensory considerations into account, such as reducing loud noises, providing visual cues, or allowing for sensory breaks if needed.
This is incredibly difficult in a group learning environment, especially with something like martial arts where physical vocalizations often take place.
It’s important for neurodivergent children to have the option to “time out” and take a break if they are overwhelmed, so if your local classes don’t offer this, it is time to consider a different option.
A calm, flexible, and structured environment can help neurodivergent children feel more comfortable and engaged.
If accommodations cannot be provided by the instructors in a physical classroom, we would advise you to choose a home-based online option.
There your child will have the flexibility to learn and take a break without disruption, if necessary. The comfort of being in a familiar environment when learning something new is invaluable and may lessen social anxiety and other triggers.
A martial arts program that understands and appreciates the unique needs of neurodivergent children is paramount when choosing which program is right for your child. Seek instructors who are specifically trained or have experience working with children with autism, ADHD, or other neurodivergent conditions. A program that offers individualized instruction or has a low student-to-instructor ratio can provide the necessary attention and support.
In addition, it’s important to note that if private learning is not an option financially, seek an online program. Online martial arts provide an opportunity to create a plan that is based upon the specific needs of your child versus a mass experience that is designed for a large class of children. While your child might get “lost” in a standardized classroom, an at-home version gives your child the opportunity to have control over what and when they are learning.
Positive Reinforcement, Reassurance, and Goal Setting
Neurodivergent children thrive on positive reinforcement, reassurance, and clear goals. Choose a program that emphasizes and praises effort and celebrates achievements. Setting achievable goals and tracking progress can enhance their motivation and sense of accomplishment.
A standard, in-person class might not have the resources to do this efficiently, especially with a neurodivergent student. It is important to have that acknowledgement, as it is a form of reassurance to continue the journey.
Seek more individualized instruction or an online program where your child has the chance to develop a pattern of trust with their instructors. This will establish a sense of comfort, and inevitably create a strong foundation for them to advance.
Martial arts training has the transformative power to strengthen neurodivergent children, building their self-confidence, discipline, and physical abilities. It provides a structured and nurturing environment where they can thrive and reach their full potential. By finding a program that understands and appreciates neurodiversity, you can provide your child with a space where they can grow, learn, and develop lifelong skills.
By considering individualized approaches, supportive environments, sensory considerations, clear communication, positive reinforcement, and flexibility, you can create an unbelievable experience tailored to your child’s unique needs.
Remember that every step counts. Trust your instincts as a parent and advocate for your child’s needs. With the right martial arts program, you can unlock a world of opportunities for your neurodivergent child, enabling them to discover their strengths, overcome their challenges, and embark on a path of personal growth and empowerment.