“Participating in taekwondo is a great way for kids to keep active, develop self-confidence and build their ability to focus. Taekwondo also helps develop gross motor skills and social skills," says Kevin Kastelle, grand master instructor at Plymouth’s World Taekwondo Academy. And while all kids can benefit from taekwondo, Kastelle believes that it can be especially beneficial for kids with special needs.
Kastelle has a strong background in working with kids with special needs. He is an education assistant at ISD 287 in Brooklyn Park, where he works with students with unique educational needs.
“Kids on the autism spectrum often have trouble crossing the midline [of the body]—an important skill to have. Taekwondo helps kids develop that," says Kastelle.
Occupational therapist Amanda Senal agrees. “Taekwondo also works on connecting the upper half of the body to the lower half, so arms can be in synch with the legs. That’s often an issue for kids on the spectrum,” says Senal.
“It also provides important sensory input. It provides propio-receptive input (“heavy work”) which is calming. And as kids move across the floor, they get vestibular input, which helps with motor control and balance. They get tactile input too, from physical contact with punching bags, or when working with their peers,” says Senal.
All this helps kids who are too sensitive to stimuli or not sensitive enough to a “just right” level of sensory regulation, says Senal.
Kids who are affected by ADHD also benefit from taekwondo. “It helps with focus and self-control. Building success also helps develop self-esteem,” says Kastelle.
“We use the Nurtured Heart Approach. We focus on what’s going right and give positive energy to that,” says Kastelle.