Did you know that pets help autistic children learn to communicate and be nurturing? Did you know that regular physical exercise helps autistic children learn to socialize and changes behavior? As more and more studies are coming in, we are discovering the multiple benefits of both pet therapy and physical activity for children with autism. Improved behavior patterns, lowered blood pressure, increased social skills, improved language skills, and stress relief are all being documented.
Being a Karate Instructor at a local studio, and teaching the beginning children's classes for 10 years now, I recently began to see a growing number of autistic children begin to attend my classes. It all started with one little boy who came to the studio with his mom. She was looking for a way to help him improve his physical coordination skills. Little did we know that coordination was just the beginning of the benefits that Lonnie* and his mom would see. With patience and awareness of not only Lonnie's needs but the needs of the other children in the class who were interacting with him, Lonnie gained language skills and improved social skills. At the beginning of his attendance, there were tantrums, lack of attention and personal hygeine problems. Now, after several belt advancements and years later, Lonnie has friends, speaks well and asks to go to the restroom!
Today I have up to six autistic and special needs children in my classes at any one time. They make up a third of my class. What a great honor it is to be able to work with all the children at the studio and to help them grow and gain their place in this world.
*Not his real name. Changed to protect privacy.