Martial Arts and the Snow Shovel Kata

“Kata” is a Japanese word, defined as “a set combination of positions and movements (as in karate) performed as an exercise”. Since all three of my children took martial arts classes for years I have seen many skills practiced and katas are more relaxing for me to watch than sparring. Karate has been thought to be beneficial for children with AD/HD and other learning disabilities for a number of reasons. One of the aspects that I like best is that it allowed my children to be involved in a sport yet work at their own pace. They could work toward their next goal even if it took longer for them to get there than for others. Martial arts with an experienced instructor can be individualized to provide challenges and just enough frustration to allow the student to learn how to manage it with self-control. This is especially important for our impulsive children. As a mother of a quirky child, I was appreciative of the aspects of training that taught self-defense. Honestly, there was something different about Josh and aggressive or mean kids would just hit him or give him a shove. This happened often, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like for him if he had been in a traditional school setting. Josh never meant to be annoying, and he was able to forgive and forget pretty quickly. (This was not true for me, and often when Josh was being victimized I’d go all brainstem emotionally and want to retaliate for him, which is not good considering I am the adult and need to thwart such impulses and use my higher thinking skills. I always did, by the way, but sometimes the override of the emotions was tough to accomplish.) Another benefit from martial arts training is the cross-body movements that are incorporated as the student crosses the midline of his or her body, thereby utilizing both hemispheres of the brain and increasing coordination and fluency. Over the years, I saw my inattentive, accident-prone and clumsy son develop quicker reactions, improved balance, and such grace that he could be a ballroom dancer if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, but isn’t it nice that he has a choice? The ability to transfer information quickly across the corpus callosum, the fibrous band that connects the brain hemispheres, is also important for academic tasks. Yet another benefit gained by participating in martial arts for our children with various struggles is the outlet for excess energy that hyperactive children exhibit. A good class under the guidance of an instructor who understands that some children have bodies that demand to be in motion can provide a safe outlet for physical activity. For children who struggle to learn the rules for sports and remember them from one season to the next, martial arts eliminates those “between seasons” gaps by being a year-round sport. For Josh, the parks and recreation program for sports such as basketball lasted six weeks. By about week five, Josh was finally starting to catch on and things were starting to click. He’d have one good week, and then basketball would be over for another year. Our local school district also refused to allow home school students to participate in any extra-curricular activities, including sports. The martial arts dojo was not affiliated with the school system, so my homeschooled children were welcome there. As a homeschooler, I was glad to find something my kids could participate in with others from our community. The classes blend new learning with review of previous skills, so the retention is easier to maintain. Josh especially loves katas that involve holding something like a long stick in his hands. He performs the moves smoothly, over and over, until his muscles have the motor pattern down. He has generalized this to every portable object that is long, thin, and straight and he performs his own version of katas whenever he has anything stick-like in his grasp. From uncooked spaghetti noodles to broom sticks, pencils, and dowel rods, Josh twirls and strikes away. Josh’s leaf raking kata is a blast to watch, but I think my personal favorite of Josh’s katas is the snow shovel kata. He looks like he’s really enjoying himself as he flings snow up over the wire in a neighbor’s backyard or into the branches of a tree. The snow does not end up in neat rows piled along the side of the walkway, but it does get removed from the sidewalk in creative ways. Josh also changes the kata slightly so the snow shovel kata is different each time it is performed. One more thing to love about martial arts training!

Sequins in the Socks

When Josh was young, he liked to collect rubber bands. We’d go for walks and he would pick up rubber bands that were left behind along the sidewalks. Josh liked to wear as many rubber bands as he could find to put on both wrists. If it left grooves in his skin, he didn’t mind. In fact, I finally figured out that what Josh really liked was the deep pressure it gave him on his wrists. He didn’t have good awareness of his body, so the input from the rubber bands felt good to him. I was concerned about circulation and that it looked odd for Josh to be wearing so many rubber bands, so I bought some terrycloth wrist bands from a sporting goods store and had Josh wear those instead. The rubber bands were meeting a need for him, so I didn’t want to just take them away without an alternative replacement item. But then Josh started collecting sequins that were used for art projects. Because his pockets were usually full of paper clips and other found treasures, Josh decided the best place to store sequins was inside his socks. I think it would drive me crazy to have just about anything besides my foot inside my sock, but it didn’t bother Josh at all. Plus, he wasn’t doing his own laundry yet so getting them out of the socks was not an issue for him. I gave Josh Zip-loc bags to store his sequins in, because in this case it was an issue of storage and not a sensory need. He was just doing a little sorting and problem solving to keep the sequins in a separate place from his other collections, and if you think about it…socks are pretty handy and convenient for storing small items. Unlike storage containers, in cold weather you almost always have socks on, and once an item or items are in the sock it’s ready to go wherever you do.
Most of us wouldn’t think to use our socks that way, but for a little guy like Josh with a different way of thinking it makes perfect sense.

Should screen time be limited?

Many of our children with AD/HD and autism are visually stimulated. They love video games, computer games, and movies. These things hold their attention often longer than anything else. So should we limit the time we allow our children to engage in “screen” activities including t.v., video games, and computer games?

I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule about how much time to let our children play video games, watch t.v., etc. but there are some things to keep in mind as you think about your specific child. When my son Josh was young, I limited his t.v. viewing to one hour per day. He was always able to attend to movies and video games, so it was tempting to let him do more because he actually stayed in one place with sustained attention for awhile. But I wanted him to learn from reality, and much of the “screen” world is fantasy based. I also wanted him to interact with others, and “screen” activities can be done as solitary activities. Even when there are games for more than one person to play at a time, the topics of conversation are severely restricted. I also noticed with Josh that when he was engaged in a video game or movie he would lose track of time and if allowed to he would spend hours playing screen games with really nothing gained from that time other than making it to the next level of the game. The skills learned in video games aren’t really transferable to life skills, and often the content is not something we’d want our kids to imitate. For some people, screen activities can be like an addiction and can decrease both the desire and opportunity for social interaction.
On the other hand, when Josh was about 6 years old I realized that he was a strong visual learner and that he could remember what he’d seen in a movie 6 months ago but not what I’d said to him a minute earlier. So I realized that by restricting Josh’s screen time I was limiting one of his best ways to learn, and started supplementing our school work with educational shows and library DVDs on topics of interest. You will need to monitor the content of any movies, but they can be a great teaching tool for history, science, and more. We also did some virtual field trips on the computer. Since Josh struggled socially, having knowledge of some video games and movies gave him the opportunity to join in conversations with others. Having a video game available made waiting rooms and long car trips more tolerable for him.
My suggestion is to consider what all the screen time might be replacing for your child, and what kind of things she is taking in while engaging in those activities. Then put some limits in place. You can be strategic and use some of the screen time to make it educational, and once your limits are in place you can offer an incentive of additional screen time to be earned by an activity of your choosing. The bottom line is that screen activity need not be entirely eliminated, but it should not take the place of real life, socially engaging activities.