View Full Version : Aspergers and Autism in Aikido

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05-10-2006, 06:23 PM
my daughter is being assesed for Asperger syndrome / Autistic Spectrum Disorder at the moment.
she has been studying Aikido for about 8 months and seems to really enjoy it.
my concern is that with her inability to "section" areas of her life that she may take her techniques in to the playground.
Now part of me is quite pleased that she is gaining these skills as she can be easily led and manipulated. I have seen her take down older boys when they have tried to force her to do something shes not so keen on doing ... (which is a good thing within reason)
Also I have to consider the days when she is having a "difficult" moment (that generally lasts the entire day!)
so ... do I allow her to continue training ...
(my fella teaches karate and see's no reason why she should stop!) but Im her mother and have an obligation to her peers at school and younger family members!
so ... any advice?

05-10-2006, 06:38 PM
My advice as an aikido student, aikido teacher and Montessori School teacher is that you continue letting her train, but warn her about the consequences of using her art outside of the dojo. Consequences may include prohibition from training for a set number of classes, if it's something she really enjoys.

Several years ago I had a student in aikido who was also a student in my classroom. He got in a fight, and even though he didn't use aikido, I refused to let him come to class for a week. His mom flipped saying it was unfair and thathad I not been his teacher at school, nothing would have happened at aikido. I explained that if, as his aikido tacher, I had learned he had gotten in a fight, there would have been those consequences. further I explained that I was teaching him an art which, unless he showed the ability to exercise control, had the potential of seriously injuring another person. He had lost control, which is what led to the fight. In the end, she understood my view, and cooperated with it.

How does this apply? I'm not sure. With my very limited understanding of Asperger's, it seems to me that anything which encourages intimate attention and focus on another person would be important, though.

My 2

05-10-2006, 08:12 PM
thanks for you thoughts on this.
Im still researching the whole subject myself. I just know that Liberty has a difficult time of understanding the differences between realilty and fiction. and about apropriate behaviour!
so again thanks for your thoughts!

Dirk Hanss
05-11-2006, 03:20 AM
Just another thought:
if you think, she cannot section areas, you might try to make sure, that she mostly learns very soft and uke protecting versions of the techniques. That might help her to hold her grownd, if needed, without getting violent, even if she looses control. In this case it does not matter, if she "plays aikido" or if she defends herself. But unless she is somehow attacked, she should not play aikido anyhow, but at least it is better that biting, scratching, punching and kicking.

So I guess it is a difficult liability and a big challenge, but if you do your best, continuing aikido will be the better choice.

HTH Dirk

James Davis
05-11-2006, 10:05 AM
But unless she is somehow attacked, she should not play aikido anyhow, but at least it is better that biting, scratching, punching and kicking.

HTH Dirk
I agree with this. :)

05-11-2006, 11:14 AM
If she understands "pretend play" you might try going physically through the situations that worry you. "So if Tommy walks up to you on the playground and pushes you like this, what will you do?" Figure out what you want her to do and practice it pretty regularly. Talking doesn't necessarily stick, but doing something over and over will make it (for all of us!) more likely to be what happens in a pinch.

I've met young Aikido students with Asperger's, though not had much chance to train with them. It can certainly work out well, though it takes extra effort for everyone concerned.

Mary Kaye

05-12-2006, 06:30 AM
thats a good idea Mary Kaye ... i will try this out ....

Austin Power
05-15-2006, 04:41 PM
I'm in pretty much the same boat at the minute my son is being assessed for autism and aspergers as well and i can understand the difficulties you are having.
Personally i wouldn't stop the aikido or any other form of martial art as since i found my son was getting assessed for it i had myself checked out and i test quite highly for aspergers as well and i can only say its only ever done me any good.
Its a very difficult area to suggest anything in black and white though as you will know yourself by now there can be varying degrees of both conditions, for instance its thought that as many as 60% of the population has some form of aaspergers and it doesn't affect their daily lives.
If it is autism/aspergers you may find out it is compartmentalised and will only ever come out on the matt. But you may not know till you try it, its a difficult scenario. Hope it all goes well


05-16-2006, 03:49 PM
Austin. ta ducky ... nice to hear the voice (well ... read the words) of someone going through the same thing. Its just a worry ... (over protective parent that I am)
I have decided that she can continue with aikido. But who can predict the future. so we're clinging on in there! (as long as I stay one grade abover her I'll be fine! lol)
ta to everyone for the ideas and support.
emma x

Ellis Amdur
05-17-2006, 06:55 PM
Folks with Asperger's are very very concrete. Often they pathologically CAN'T lie.

The best way to assist her in maintaining control and acting appropriately is to be very very specific. In the dojo you can do this/this/this/this. Outside the dojo, if someone does x, you are allowed to do y with z result. If z-1, results, you must do q-7.

Sorry for the pseudo algebra, but in a way, that's how the child functions in the world - when things are working well for him or her. It is when the situation is abstract, ambiguous or confusing that the child (or adult) may choose wrong.


05-17-2006, 07:37 PM
I totally agree. but it would be difficult to underline all possible problems that she may face and then teach her the appropriate response? or am I just being a bleating parent?

Steve Mullen
05-19-2006, 02:49 PM
Hi Emma, i think this may be the first time we will have ever had a sensible conversation (maybe its the wine im drinking, hang on....im alone and sitting in the dark, god how sad is that.....anyway)

I haven't really had any experience with autism/aspergers but my cousin has Attention Defecit and Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD). My uncle (his father) is a Sandan in shotokan karate and wanted to bring my cousin into this world, but was slightly worried about doing so, for the reasons you have identified above. He found that doing kata with my cousin in a really focused way i.e concentrating fully on the movements rather than just going through the motions really helped him in his general life.

So maybe you could try doing some koyko-ho techniques breath throws and big movement stuff. You may find it helps to relax her whilst still teaching her technique. i don't think there is anyhing wrong with teaching her other techniques, it may stop her getting bored.

Just my two cents

early rub up
05-21-2006, 10:06 AM
to let you have a point of veiw from some one who has asd and adhd i wouldnt worry to much about her give her some credit having asd dosnt make you stupid i have two sons that have asd one with adhd like myself and the other with Aspergers both doing fine if it happens and she ends up doing a move fine its all part of her finding herself if she gets into trouble its something for her to look back on when shes older you have to let her make her own mistakes dont get me wrong giving her council is fine but dont let your fears get in her way

Lucy Smith
05-21-2006, 01:36 PM

05-23-2006, 02:03 PM
I feel drawn to say something and want to help, but not sure i can.

I have something that caused severe social awkwardness, concreteness, and inappropriate behavior.
Judo was the first sane structured environment I was exposed to. I took to judo in kind of an (autistic) savant way. Nothing else in life made sense; judo did. To this day if I don't understand something I think in the terms, shapes, that were given me from 14 - 17 in judo. It gave me contact with my intuitive mind, and that has enabled me to connect with other people.

I never hurt anyone with judo, because I was told not to! I got out of situations and got away. It is literally 'the gentle way' and that is how I expressed myself. If your child is not violent she won't express violence. No worries there.

I thought asperger's and autism were not interacting normally with other humans. If your daughter does not know fact from fiction I think aikido can only help, as judo helped me. A friend at work has a son with a similar problem. She takes him to the mall and they talk about people's facial expressions and what is going on with them. He often gets it wrong, but she shows him she loves him and he is slowly learning. I'm not sure it's a disease process, but just a developmental difficulty. More training.

And, as is fitting - if I've been offensive, please tell me! - I can't always tell. (embarrassed)


05-23-2006, 04:13 PM
thankyou for your own valuable insight.
autism and aspergers is diagnosed along a spectrum.it can often be ignored by the medical proffession as no two cases are ever identical it can opull in many different "traits" from social awkwardness, poor eye contact to things like ticks and irrational outbursts.
nut I am glad you popped up to add your own experiances,

05-25-2006, 05:28 AM
Emma dear, good to see you back in the forum and (sounds like) on the mat. I have NLD, so here is another variation on personal experience...

For many years -- all of my school years, in fact, I had the same issues. I could do many things, but interacting with people, except in a very scripted way, wasn't one of them. I was VERY literal and could not only not tell a lie, but couldn't see several sides of a problem.... lots of conversations went like this: "That's a lie. You're lying." "No I'm not!" "Yes you are, you just told me something different five seconds ago." "No I didn't!" "Yes you did!"...etc. You would think that being a teacher would teach both parents not to resort to infantile arguing, heh.

Anyhow -- I could observe people in the abstract, and often change their emotional state...was and still am, considered 'a very good listener' ... because I wouldn't/don't connect entirely with others' emotional state. When it was a personal situation though, that didn't work so well..fall into the same patterns over and over, and because emotional 'thinking' was so hard, often looked to other people for guidance, even when I really shouldn't have ...
so I became more and more isolated. Added to this was the physical stress of falling down a lot, and not being able to succeed at *any* sports activity or team game *whatsoever*! Either I didn't understand whose turn it was, or I just couldn't do anything with the ball...balls were evil back then.

Emma - I speak from bitter experience here; mini-you needs to develop confidence and a sense of security in herself from moment one...as much of her own mind as possible. It will save her vast amounts of trouble later on. Already sounds like she is defending herself more now than I did then, or even later. This is a *very* good skill, in my opinion.

On to discovering aikido... my teachers were and still are very willing to work with me rather than 'around' me...and over the last couple of years, I have noticed a change: things that I had seen as pieces (I'm also *not* a visual learner, or more accurately *wasn't*..) began to make coherent wholes, first in aikido, then in life, and I began to see the sides of things, not just the edge in front of me. "If you step here when you enter into this technique, I, as nage, will do this. If on the other hand, I can't do that, I'll might do this, or this, or that. If you step somewhere else, I'll do that instead, and you fall this way and land this way, and it feels like this.." "If they're feeling this way they might say this, or do this, or say that, or do that, or have that look on their face...or, "If I say x this way, then they might react with a, b, or c, I could say it y, and d,e,f might be more of reactions that I want..." Social tenkan and irimi.

Not only has it helped with all of this, but also walking, balance -- I don't fall down now, and when I do, I land well. Outside of the dojo that is! hee hee :P; it helps, too, just having a group that I'm part of...friends by extension...we're all into the same 'rolling around in white pjs and/or black skirts sort of thing'. "What did you do all day?" "Went to aikido class and learned from my friends" is much better than "Watched TV."

In the beginning I had several episodes where aikido was the only piece of my life that made sense. Sometimes it's still the only thing that makes sense. The mindset you learn, the social immersement...all of it is teaching me in a way that for me, 5 years of psychotherapy plus 7 years of PT/OT couldn't touch...

As far as the 'no throwing off the mat' worry...well, hon, you can't have it both ways. Either she's allowed to defend herself or she isn't. Learning things softer and slower might also help her with her physical and mental control as well as the emotional. Maybe start with the "only on the mat" rule, and gradually unravel it as she gets older and more confident in herself.

Have you talked to your sensei about your concerns?


05-25-2006, 09:50 AM
In the beginning I had several episodes where aikido was the only piece of my life that made sense. Sometimes it's still the only thing that makes sense. The mindset you learn, the social immersement...all of it is teaching me in a way that for me, 5 years of psychotherapy plus 7 years of PT/OT couldn't touch...

My sister! Sharing is good. Nice to know I'm not the only one! Glad you are growing. OSensei would be proud.

On a personal note you must watch 'Napoleon Dynamite'; silly movie, but fitting in isn't everything!


Lyle Bogin
06-03-2006, 07:08 AM
I work at a school as a PE teacher that has a fantastic program for Aspergers.

My class is the one area in which they are mainstreamed, and they are wonderful students.

I understand your concern, and I think the most important thing is to educate your child's sensei and keep her sessions focused on what will be productive to her daily life. With proper guidance, understanding "on the mat" and "off the mat" could be a fantastic way to introduce situational behavior and some social cues.

Good luck and know you're not alone!!

06-04-2006, 10:24 PM
Maya .... your a star ... thanks for the reply and I am persevering with her aikido. I sit in on her classes and sensei is remarkably good with her. she often has little "zone outs" and will sit staring vacantly or just wander off doing something else and he still seems to pull her back.
My main concearn as I asid was that (kids are cruel!) she is already slightly isolated (you know, parents make excuses why the kids cant come to tea ect!) so if she suddenly starts nikkyo-ing the horrible bratts ... well I dont see her popularity rising!
anyway ....
thanks again all ... youve been a real eyeopening rock!
ta duckys!

Matthew Brosseau
07-14-2006, 10:59 PM
I actually have this, and there is another student that I am familar with in my class that has it.

I've been told quite firmly, if I misuse it, I will no longer be able to take part in it. Sometimes I feel a little frustrated because I can't get something to connect in my brain to what we are doing.

07-15-2006, 08:54 AM
A lady named Erika Rein out of Two Rock Dojo CA, used to teach aikido to a special needs group. She presented at the last Aiki Extensions conference in DC. The program has been taken over by someone else now I believe. Send me a private mail if you'd like to be put in touch.

08-02-2006, 10:16 AM
Sometimes I feel a little frustrated because I can't get something to connect in my brain to what we are doing.
Don't worry. This is normal.
Dealing with, and training through the frustation is how we learn aikido.
I know very few people who weren't a little frustated the first time they tried a forward roll.

08-09-2006, 06:41 AM
Hi Emma, My son, Charlie, may also be Autistic. He hasn't been diagnosed officially yet, but the signs are there. I've always thought that getting Charlie to do a martial art would help him and if I can train with him its something we could do together. From reading through peoples replies to your question I don't think you need to worry about your daughter. It seems as though if you explain to her clearly that this is training and its separate from school (although I'd like to think when Charlie's older he can protect himself if being picked on for his condition) then there's no problem. If she's enjoying it, why stop.
I read the PDF some linked to about Aikido and its benefits to children with Aspergers, that makes me even more convinced that getting Charlie involved in some kind of martial art is a good thing. Unfortunately my club does not teach people under the age of 18, but when he's older I may look to take him somewhere else.
What I'd like to know was how did it go when she started, did you have to slowly encourage her or did she want to get involved straight away? How old was she when she started?
Anyway I hope all is going well.

11-03-2006, 10:38 PM
His brother Matthew, also born with Asperger, has a black belt in aikido. (http://www.newwest.net/index.php/city/article/nederland_football_proves_a_cinderella_story/C94/L94/)