Martial Arts Benefits People on the Autism Spectrum

February 23rd, 2014 | By Marjie No Comments


Repetition of movement, sounds, or activities is fairly common among persons on the autism spectrum. Traditional martial arts training uses repetitive practice as a foundation for skilled learning. And, while there is very limited scientific evidence to confirm that martial arts training is an effective – even therapeutic – exercise for persons on the autism spectrum, there is definitely anecdotal evidence that would support the idea.

Studies and personal testimonies indicate that martial arts training can improve not just motor skills and coordination, but also communication skills and even levels of self-esteem. Why? Well, honestly we do not know yet, at least from the scientific perspective. But it is thought that the training itself, combined with the encouragement, levels of progress, structure, and intensity of martial arts translate into other areas of the person’s life.

Some of the ways martial arts can help include:

  • One-on-one training may keep their attention for longer periods of time
  • Repetitive movements inherent in martial arts may reduce dependence on stimming behavior
  • Learning and practicing new body positions may increase motor learning and planning
  • The physicality of the sport itself can improve strength, conditioning, and agility
  • Social interaction during classes may improve communication and confidence
  • Physical activity can reduce disruptive behavior

If you’d like to explore how martial arts may benefit someone in your family, be sure to consult with the person’s physician first. Then look for a martial arts therapist who has experience working with persons with intellectual challenges. Be certain that one-on-one instruction is available as needed, and talk with the instructors personally to be sure you feel comfortable with their approaches. And check with your medical insurance and human services providers to see what financial assistance is available to help cover the costs of the martial arts therapies.

Once you find a program and instructor and therapy has begun, be sure you stay involved. Watch for signs of success as well as concerns. Communicate openly and frequently with the instructor. Keep all interested professionals – teachers, physicians, martial arts instructors, behavioral specialists – well-informed.

For more information about the use of martial arts as therapy for persons on the autism spectrum, visit

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