Autism And A Boy's Success at Martial Arts

Charlie Hoover of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, is the father of nine-year-old Lenny. Lenny was diagnosed with with classic regressive autism at the age of two, but today his dad quotes a neuropsychologist as saying ""Lenny does not have any symptoms of autism."

Charlie shares this wonderful story of Lenny's success in taekwondo:

  • “Excuse me please ... my boy’s next”, I repeated while holding my camcorder and working my way through the crowd of parents next to the martial arts ring. We had traveled 300 miles to a regional taekwondo tournament so my son Lenny could compete, and I was determined to record it for posterity. As I watched my son spar against another boy on the LCD screen, the sound of the crowd cheering them on to do their best became very noticeable. I recall thinking that if they only knew how far we have really traveled; their cheers would blow the roof off.

    “He’s going and that’s that!” Sometimes we dads need to trust mom’s intuition a little more than we do and about three years ago I failed miserably. Mom (Harriet) had without consulting Dad (me) signed our son up for taekwondo lessons and I was being informed of the unilateral decision after the fact and over my objections. Our son was the smallest kid in his first grade class and had been picked on by a bigger boy. Mom’s intuition told her that he needed to be able to protect himself just in case some future bully ever became physical. My Dad’s intuition, which is directly connected to the thickness of my wallet, said we couldn’t afford it. Mom’s intuition told her, “We couldn’t afford NOT to."

    The only exposure I’ve ever had to martial arts was watching movies like the “Karate Kid." As I drove Lenny to his first lesson, images of little kid robots reacting to commands of “wax on ... wax off” went through my mind. Of course, it wasn’t anything like that. The instructor, Robert, was wonderful. In no time, Lenny was lined up with the other children and was doing his best to keep up with their kicks and jabs. What I really liked about Robert is that he expected a certain amount of respect from the children and corrected them when necessary but didn’t go overboard with it. I loved hearing my boy address an adult as “sir." The kids also had time to socialize and play a game of “bring home the bacon." Lenny had a ball and was hooked immediately. Soon, I was driving my son to lessons four times a week with images of him being the next Bruce Lee.

    Better focus, more confidence, physical fitness, more disciplined, better manners, better grades, and a much happier child are just some of the benefits we have seen from taekwondo. I especially like the profoundly positive role model the teenage black-belt “high achievers” set for the younger children.

    And yes, my son has learned to defend himself. Last year, he was in a large bounce house when some uninvited bigger kids showed up and starting picking on the little ones. Lenny attempted to get an adult, as Robert taught, but found his way blocked and one bully pushed him. One well placed round-house kick is all it took. Mom’s intuition had indeed been right on the money (no pun intended).

    My son (now nine years old) lost the sparring match to the more experienced boy but did take home Silver (second place) for both forms and sparring for his age range and belt rank (red). Mom and Dad are exceedingly proud of not only his accomplishments, but the boy he has become. Yes, we have indeed traveled a long way since our son was diagnosed with autism at age two.

    Asked whether he feels taekwondo is a good choice for most kids on the autism spectrum, here's what Charlie has to say:

    • The child should be able to follow commands, be socialable with other children, etc. This is not to say that a child might not benefit from taekwondo with one on one lessons, etc. and the right instructor.

      I would highly recommend parents thoroughly check out any taekwondo program. Parents should observe one or two classes to gauge if their child will fit in and talk to the waiting parents for their input. Also, they should talk to the instructor and make sure he or she knows that their child is on the spectrum and obtain their input. Most programs offer free or reduced price introductory classes, so never sign any long term contract until they are absolutely sure taekwondo is right for their child.

    Continue Reading