Martial arts are an amazing way to help many sensory kids manage self-regulation and other issues that go along with Sensory Processing Disorder. I can’t tell you how many parents have said Karate or some other form of martial arts have given their kids self-discipline and better focus. Read the story below and consider if martial arts is the right outlet for your sensory kiddo.
How Martial Arts Transformed a Nonverbal Autistic Toddler into a Thriving 9-Year-Old Sensation
When he was a happy but nonverbal toddler, Steele Hale was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Doctors told his parents, Steve and Cathy Hale, they had no idea if or when he’d become verbal or if he’d ever be social enough to have meaningful relationships. The outlook for his future was unknown and grim. Last year, at the age of 8, that same autistic boy performed a kung fu routine onstage in front of a crowd of 300 people, proving any obstacle can be overcome. This year, he will take the stage again Feb. 27 and dazzle the crowd with a martial arts routine consisting of fan-fighting and staff-fighting techniques with his Sifu (instructor), Robert Roy, who is currently developing a course for Bully Prevention Certification.
“We had never thought about getting Steele involved in martial arts until Sam Hicks, the principal at Steele’s school, Lakeway Elementary, told us how much he’d seen other children in Steele’ situation thrive from martial arts,” says Cathy. “It sounded like a good idea to us, so we did our research and found Sifu Robert Roy. During Steele’s very first kung fu lesson, we knew we had found something special.”
“Martial arts helped Steele develop both sides of his brain because techniques require students to alternate between left brain and right brain skills, which many autistic children struggle with,” explains Roy, a twice Hall of Fame inductee as kung fu master who trained in China at the Shaolin Temple. “I worked with Steele weekly and after only a few lessons, I saw dramatic improvements. His physical abilities were improving, his ability to focus was getting stronger and his level of confidence in himself was soaring.”
During the course of his kung fu lessons, Steele transformed into a focused, confident and skilled martial-arts student who specialized in staff fighting. In January 2013, along with his parents and Roy, he decided to share his martial arts achievements with his community by performing in the annual talent show at his school. The first step was making the audition. The staff at Lakeway Elementary School was extremely supportive and let Steele audition with Roy. Four more weeks of practice flew by as the talent show quickly approached.
In February 2013, the Lakeway Elementary School gymnasium was packed with more than 300 parents, family members, teachers and friends, all eager for the talent show. When it was time for Steele to perform, he grabbed the microphone (which was unexpected and unscripted) and asked the crowd, “Are you ready to see it?” The crowd clapped and cheered as Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” played and Steele and Roy performed an exciting martial arts combat routine.
“I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live,” says Cathy. “I cried from the moment he took the stage because I was so overwhelmed with joy. Nobody in that crowd understood how every single thing he did was so magical. He didn’t get nervous, he spoke on a microphone from his heart, and his routine was awesome. I still meet people who remember Steele’s routine vividly. It’s just amazing.”
Watch Steele’s school performance: