Aikido for Kids - Children with Special Needs
Among the various kids activities, at Aikido Westchester we began Aikido programs children with special needs due to interest shown by the community and a basic motivation to help. The intent is to utilize meditative training methods with varying levels of activity to benefit children with special needs.
We have experience working with children on the Autism spectrum, ADHD & ADD, sensory integration disorders, hearing deficits, anxiety disorders and some rare genetic disorders. Over time, we began research in the fields of psychology, health, neurobiology, etc, seeking advice from individuals with crossover expertise in such fields along with meditation to more precisely target benefits for children in this population.
The main thrust of the methods used in martial arts training is to evoke a meditative state, or balanced mental state, through games/activities, either quiet/calm or energetic, which substantially reduces stress. We have found that the desire is to bring the child into the proper balance. Some children may need to let off excess energy while others may need to do an activity that quiets the mind. We keep class sizes small and instructor/student ratio high so that we can target the needs of the children and address them in a creative and appropriate manner. Children in such a balanced state are better able to face challenges and overcome obstacles. The ability to build new neural pathways is then enhanced.
Once a foundation of balance is set for practice, we focus on the development of skills. For example, various games are used and aikido techniques are practiced. Some of the benefits are increased sensory awareness and integration, increased muscle tone & coordination, impulse control, ability to follow a sequence of instructions, and many more. We believe that children receive profound benefit from the practice of Aikido. Ultimately, self confidence is significantly improved as children find they are better able to accomplish more tasks than they thought possible. The increased confidence can lead to lower stress in a learning environment, which then increase capacity further, resulting in a virtuous cycle. Children are supported and encouraged, and given plenty of praise and positive reinforcement.
Social development is often limited for children with certain conditions, such as autism, but to the degree possible it is promoted through interaction with other children in class as well as the ability to attend other classes as appropriate.
We also make an effort to provide visual supports to aid children in learning: pictures of techniques and story books can often help children who benefit from a visual learning approach. The modalities of Yoga - children with special needs and Aikido are both available, depending upon the interests and abilities of the child.