Kace’s Martial Arts Journey

Kace in front of a class.
Kace came into our world on Nov 2, 2012. Like most parents, we were relieved to have a healthy baby and excited to show the world to him and share our hopes and dreams for him. His room was decorated with the future sports and interests we anticipated that he would enjoy just as we do, but as Kace’s interests emerged, they guided us to a path we were unfamiliar with. During this time, we were learning how to raise and support a child on the spectrum, as our only other reference point was our daughter, who was a typically developing child, and her interests were consistent with our childhood history.
Kace has always been interested in objects and, as a child, would line them up. He would often look at them from various angles and build them into fantastic structures. Kace is interested in math and often does equations in his head. He likes to collect facts on a variety of things, from Earth to biology and what-if scenarios. He was fascinated by numbers, letters, and objects. He was interested in how things worked and putting things together.
However, Kace was not interested in imaginary play, dressing up like his favorite superhero, or engaging others. New situations and new places were well out of his comfort zone and would cause heightened anxiety. To onlookers, it would look to most as if Kace would be having tantrums and behavioral issues instead of his lack of skill to overcome and manage his anxiety. Situations that would be fun for most, something as fun and simple as going into a play area or a birthday party, would be filled with anxiety, but luckily, we ignored the judgmental stares of others and worked Kace through these situations so that he would not miss out on opportunities and now fond memories.
We knew we wanted to get Kace into an activity, but we also had more concerns about his future safety. We  unfortunately know all too well the reality that children on the spectrum are targets for bullying, and we wanted him to be able to protect himself.
Kace was introduced to Martial Arts by his sister, who had started when she was five. He often watched her practices as well as attended the tournaments she participated in. We were initially hesitant, but we decided to offer Kace the opportunity to join, and he started when he was 8. The school was well-intentioned and said they understood how to work with a young person on the Autism Spectrum, but they did not, and often created unnecessary challenges for him, and as a result, provided others with glimpses of his behavior without understanding his disability. The result of this is children would isolate him, and he was not part of the community because they did not understand him, and he was set up to fail by the school. We then decided to give soccer a try, and I coached Kace for two seasons. Kace was able to participate at times at a higher level, but his awareness and his ability to focus were impaired at times. We then decided to give Martial Arts a try again in hopes that structure and repetition would help ease his anxiety.
We joined ATA in hopes of not just learning Martial Arts but feeling connected to people and beginning to build an identity. Most children Identify with wanting to be an athlete or superhero, and Kace has never entertained any of those things. We were hoping that his instructors would build relationships with him to get to know him and understand that he does not struggle with behavior; he sometimes struggles with understanding perspectives, sensory issues, motor coordination issues, self-advocacy challenges, and lots of anxiety, but what he does not struggle with is behavior. We needed instructors and the school to see the skill gaps and not a cookie-cutter approach. We feel that Kace is building his confidence in just being around the other students. He has become more aware of how his body is occupying space while around other students. He is comfortable getting up in front of the other students and teaching in the leadership class. Kace has begun to advocate for himself instead of getting anxious, it is a work in progress, but we see positive signs emerging. We can see his anxiety is slowly diminishing, and his ability to engage is increasing. He has instructors who use praise to disengage his anxiety, and the cards sent home when he has a positive individual session often pinpoint where he is doing well, and he collects them, and we have history and evidence of his good work, and that is important to him and us.
As a family, the one thing that has helped Kace at school and his life outside of school is the ability to partner with others. We feel the partnership that we are developing with his instructors and the school is vital to his success, and we see their investment in him. As a result, Kace has shared he wants to get his Black Belt. He enjoys receiving group recognition when he gets a stripe or a new belt at graduation, and that kind of reinforcement has energizes him and us as a family. These celebrations are so important for him and for us, as families with Children on the Spectrum don’t always get recognition for the positive things they do. We are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to what the future holds for Kace.