Children of all ages can benefit from martial arts training. Studying any of the martial arts comes with a host of benefits that can improve kids’ physical and mental health.
One of the things that we get asked about frequently is whether neurodivergent kids can take martial arts and how it benefits them. The good news is that neurodivergent children, whether they have autism spectrum disorder or have a diagnosis of ADHD, can reap the rewards of studying the martial arts.
With that in mind, here are 8 martial arts benefits for neurodivergent kids.
#1: Focus on Individual Growth
The first benefit of martial arts training for neurodivergent kids is that, unlike team sports, the focus in martial arts classes is on individual growth and improvement. The pressure of competing with other kids may be too much for many kids who aren’t neurotypical and martial arts classes allow them to build physical skills without stress.
#2: Repetition Can Reduce Stereotypy
One of the common symptoms that many autistic kids experience is stereotypy or stimming. Both terms refer to repeating actions for reasons that aren’t obvious to an observer. While you might think that the repetitive motion required to learn the martial arts would encourage stereotypy, it can actually have the opposite effect because it fulfils the need for repetition and teaches kids how to control their movements.
#3: Muscle Memory
The basic movements of martial arts are known as kata, which incorporates the foundational movements of both offensive and defensive action. Learning these movements creates muscle memories based on repetitive actions and that can be helpful because autistic kids can build new muscle memories that may reduce stimming.
#4: Focus and Attention
Kids who are neurodivergent may struggle with focus and paying attention, both in school and at home. Over time, martial arts training can help kids improve their focus because it encourages them to concentrate on one movement or one concept at a time. Physical activity, particularly activity that brings the body and mind together, can do a lot to improve concentration and help kids in other areas of their lives.
#5: Achievable Goals
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for kids with ADHD is that big goals with lots of moving parts can be overwhelming. In the face of something that feels like too much, they may shut down. In martial arts classes, each big goal–such as earning a new stripe or belt–is broken down into small and achievable chunks. Learning new skills one at a time makes it easy for kids to work toward a goal without overwhelm.
#6: Safe Social Interaction
Some neurodivergent children may struggle with socialization because they feel awkward or anxious. Meeting other kids in a martial arts class may remove some of that anxiety because everyone in the class has a common bond. That makes it easy to break the ice, start a conversation, and make a new friend!
#7: Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
When neurodivergent kids feel like the other, whether it’s in a classroom or on the playground, they may struggle with low self-esteem. Learning any of the martial arts helps by building confidence and self-esteem. Each time your child learns a new skill or earns a new belt or stripe, they’ll be growing in confidence.
#8: Mutual Respect
One of the core tenets of martial arts training is respect. In our classes, students learn the importance of respect and self-respect. What that means is that all kids, whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical, learn to treat one another as equals–and that can go a long way toward building friendships, improving confidence, and increasing self-control.
The bottom line is that learning any martial art can be beneficial for neurodivergent kids because it provides them with an outlet for their energy, an opportunity to learn new skills, and a chance to build confidence and make new friends.