Martial Arts Proven Beneficial for Individuals with Autism

A recent and growing trend that has provided many benefits for children on the autism spectrum involves their engagement in karate and other martial arts. 

A 2010 research project conducted by the University of Wisconsin physical therapy department confirmed what parents were already reporting — in the course of learning martial arts, children with autism essentially came out of their shells and grew more socially assertive and cooperative. They exhibited better balance and motor coordination, eye contact improved and play skills were further developed. Greater self-esteem was also reported, with the added bonus of these kids being able to defend themselves, if need be.

Karate and martial arts assist kids on the autism spectrum with the ability to concentrate and focus their attention in a consistent and highly structured environment. Additionally, parents find that new skills carry over into home and at school. The release of energy in a safe and ritualized environment can bring a child to a new sense of calm. Friendships are formed around a shared activity and that sense of belonging can be the greatest reward of all.

If contemplating martial arts for your child, it’s always good to consult with his or her doctor prior to beginning any physical training. Observe the class before committing your child to it. It should be small and solely for children with autism, at least initially. Higher functioning children may be able to integrate into regular classes immediately. Confer with the instructor about your child’s needs and make sure you feel you can successfully partner with them.

Once your child is underway, have them practice at home in a no pressure environment and offer encouragement and reinforcement for the moves they have already learned. A demonstration for siblings or other relatives will also go a long way in building confidence and self-esteem.

Martial arts offers therapeutic rewards and parents will enjoy the fact that their child can participate in activities that other kids take for granted. And with summer fast approaching, it just may be the perfect activity to consider.

17 Responses to Martial Arts Proven Beneficial for Individuals with Autism

  1. Judith Gonzalez says:

    Can I have the full article? I’m very interested in how martial arts could have significant impact in autistic’s mental processes, physical/motor and social skills.

  2. Aida Campbell says:

    I like to comment on this being true. I am a Martial Arts Instructor and have many kids with Autism or some form of ADD-ADHD. All I do is focus my attention on treating them like any other student. I do however,plan in my training the “focus” moment. I want the child to look at me, in my eyes…and not be afraid. If I am teaching a “Touch” routine where they need to have contact with other students, I ask them to trust me in not hurting them and neither will the other student, but most important for these kids of mine….is that “everyone in my class learns the same respect to my needy kids!”

    Others need to control their actions. Parents are amazed how they work well with me, but the issue here is…how they teach me to be better with patience.

    Sensei Campbell

  3. Susan says:

    Thank you for your comments. I have to say, my son’s martial arts teacher is the most patient person whose ever worked for my son. And when my son does get upset, he never faces recrimination. Such a blessing…

  4. Mila says:

    I would like to find out from some of the Sensei’s how to help children with autism in a karate club. I am a purple belt and an autistic boy recently joined our club – I would like to teach him by myself because our club is big and I don’t feel like he gets noticed or anything. He has a very hard time understanding any language and is always in “another world” I am very fond of this little boy and I wan’t to help him as much as I can,I will dedicate my time at the dojo to him – he has already made a connection with me and holds my hands where he won’t let any of the other children touch him. I am super excited to start this journey.

  5. Susan says:

    Very touching. He’s fortunate to have you, and you are fortunate to have him…this will change both your lives forever…

  6. Elaina-Rose Williams says:

    Hi, I noticed you offered two articles that offer clinical evidence for the therapeutic value of martial arts for children with Autism. The first link does not work. I was able to view the second link so thank you.
    I am looking for additional research evidence or studies by therapeutic professionals that further support the value of martial arts for autistic children.
    Are you able to supply more?

    Truly appreciative,

  7. Yeri says:

    Hi, I have a kid with autism his 11 years old, i been looking for a place that teach karate classes, the ones, I seen dont teach kids with autism, I leave in Riverside Ca County.. Please email me, if You do know asap please…

  8. Tom says:

    I’m a retired police officer and worked with many troubled youth with various issues and behavior concerns. I’ve been teaching martial arts for kids over twenty years and have had various kids benefit from the martial arts program. I agree with the comments written before. I now have a 2 yr old grandson diagnosed with autisim and another age 3 with sensory perception disorder. I will be teaching my grandsons and have an interest in more research being done in this area of martial arts such as tai chi benefiting these special youth.

  9. Susan says:

    Your grandsons are extremely fortunate indeed! Teaching them will be wonderful for all concerned. Good luck with your research.

  10. Robert M. Quintero says:

    I am currently writing a grant for a Karate nonprofit organization that wants to expand there services to students who have autism, down syndrome, adhd and bi-polar disorder. I am looking for statistics or studies that have been conducted that shows the benefit of karate classes for people with these afflictions. any help on where to look? do you know of any karate schools that have these services?


  11. Margaret says:

    My son Tim who is 16 yrs old and has autism has been studying Iishin Ryu karate since he was six. He passed his Black Belt Test on Nov 10,2013. Karate has definitely made him more coordinated and far more self confident. I also feel that as a result of all of his karate training he is in a far higher functioning universe than he would have been without it.

  12. Susan says:

    That’s awesome. Thanks for writing.

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  14. Susan Moffitt says:


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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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