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Karate Kid

A mom of a boy with mild autism watches as he learns life lessons in karate class.

I shift in my seat to catch a better glimpse of my youngest boy through the large glass window, and hear the word “CHEOP!” ring out into their classroom, an order which is quickly obeyed by a dozen five and six-year-olds who respond in kind. For a few brief moments following this command every child is miraculously still, and perfectly tuned into their karate instructor.

All too soon however the magical moment is broken, and I watch as twelve students respond to instructions (for the most part) to line up for drills, and am pleased to see that Zach complies.

We had endured (and by “we”, I mean mostly “I”) a few rough classes the week before, with Zach’s infractions resulting in several time-outs that caused him to miss out on some of the most entertaining aspects of the class.  I’m hoping his mini-derailments are minor aberrations from his usual behavior, because he loves coming here, and I truly feel it will help his development in the long run.

And honestly, I love this weekly forty-five minute glimpse into his world, and I’m loathe to relinquish it.

For the last few months Zach’s father and I had entertained various possible outlets to help our youngest release some of his incredible wealth of energy (trust me, this was as much for his good as it was for ours), and although we once again considered team sports, we eventually decided to attempt the “solo route” for a while.  In the past we had tried soccer with Zach when he was three, an experience which generally resulted in our blond-haired boy running across three regulation soccer fields with his “girlfriend” in tow, followed by their fathers in hot pursuit.

While this was an amusing way for me to spend a Saturday morning, at the end of the day we couldn’t justify signing him up again, as he demonstrated absolutely zero interest in any aspect of the game. We also attempted baseball in the spring, and realized once again that Zach was far more captivated by the prospect of chasing his “buddy” around the field than actually learning the nuances of our nation’s favorite pastime.

When it comes to team sports, it seems as if he’ll take after his mama.

I had brought this dilemma to my son’s child study team several months prior to the end of the school year, and in typical fashion, they had some great suggestions for me.  Summer swim team was suggested, but I just couldn’t work out the logistics of being in two places simultaneously (if someone could ever figure out how to clone me for camp pick-ups, I’d be eternally grateful).

The team’s second suggestion of karate however was an available option year-round. I figured if Jeff and I could convince him not to use his acquired knowledge on either his older brother or us, it would be a viable option.

So far, we’ve all managed to avoid being karate-chopped.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.

I shift once more in a seat that looks far more comfortable than it really is, and remind myself that for Zach, learning self-regulation and discipline is far more of a marathon than a sprint (as it is for most children, but especially for him), and that I need to be more patient.  I’d read up a bit on karate prior to signing Zach up for lessons, and I had felt its emphasis on increasing self-control as well as strengthening the body and mind would be hugely beneficial to my boy.

Truly, particularly with the holidays right around the corner, who couldn’t use a bit more self-control these days?

I finally give up on finding my seat’s sweet spot and stand, moving out of my boy’s direct line of sight so as not to distract him.  I watch as he executes a perfect jab-hook-jab, and note his satisfied smile as he is rewarded with the word “perfect”, and reminded to run to the back of the line.

His grin overtakes his entire face, and I know he has taken pride in his performance.  His mom is proud of him too.

As a former teacher, I’m a sucker for even the tiniest accomplishment.

I think about that word “perfect”, and know it’s not a peak we’ll ever strive for in our house, and not because both boys have their own distinct versions of autism. I happen to think striving for perfection is overrated, as are my efforts to reattain my pre-baby stomach, or at times remember both boys’ names.

I lump perfection in the same class as trying to attain any semblance of “normal”, which I have yet to see defined by any family I know, with or without a child who is differently-abled.

If you know any, I’d love to meet them.

No, in this household we’re shooting for simpler goals.  I hope Zach’s participation in this class brings him slightly closer to my hopes for him, and those of his father.  I wish for him the ability to follow the crowd when necessary, yet retain his precious individuality.

I want him to learn how to discipline himself when required in a way that enables him to grow, yet doesn’t curtail his exuberant essence.  Mostly, I dream that he’ll take pride in his accomplishments whatever they are, and that they bring him joy.

I will note here that none of these wishes are promised in the Paul Prendergast Karate contract.

A few minutes after I conclude my musings the class is called into a circle.   I know that my son will soon come bounding out of class, still retaining an overflow of energy, yet somewhat satiated from his exertions.  Without my asking he will tell me he did a good job today, yet will look to me to confirm his words. Gladly, I will.

Then I’ll take his hand, whisk him past items in a glass case that his “karate dollars” will eventually buy him (just not today), and settle him into his car seat for home.

He will be happy.  And his mother will be too.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

WMS826 October 10, 2012 at 11:59 AM
We have a similar situation and use Kum Sung on RT 88 near the Walgreens. I highly recommend them as the grand master is caring and patient with our special needs child. Also he is trained on how to handle these kids and does it well.
Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty October 10, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Teachers and instructors can make or break a child's experience. I'm so glad you found a place that works for your child. Thanks for reading!

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