Judo Shows Promise for Kids With Autism
By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor -Last updated: 19 Jan 2020
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may benefit socially and physically from participating in judo, a martial art form that uses unarmed combat to train the mind and body, according to a new pilot study of 14 children conducted at the University of Central Florida.
“While karate, a form of martial arts, has documented benefits for the autism population related to social interaction, we hypothesized that the emphasis on mindfulness and self-defense promoted by judo would provide additional benefits for ASD youth,” said Dr. Jeanette Garcia, an assistant professor in the College of Health Professions and Sciences who led the study.
“Indeed, our study shows that judo not only promotes social skills, but is well accepted by this population and is a great program for reducing sedentary behavior and increasing confidence.”
Garcia believed judo might be a good fit for ASD kids because its approach held promise for addressing some of the challenges these children often face, including communication deficits, high levels of anxiety, difficulties with social interaction, and preferences for structured and repetitive activities.
Judo promotes social interaction, emphasizes mindfulness, and focuses on balance, strength, and coordination, while alternating between low, moderate, and high-intensity exercise. There also is a lot of repetition to mastering techniques.
The study found increases in moderate to vigorous physical activity among participants during and beyond the study period and a reduction of sedentary time, although researchers say the amount was not statistically significant.
Importantly, however, the children in the study were eager to continue judo lessons beyond the study period and the few who did not continue had to stop because of scheduling or transportation issues, rather than lack of interest. More research is needed to determine if the reduction in sedentary time will last.
Parents also reported their children were more comfortable with social interaction and physical contact, things children diagnosed with autism struggle with in most cases. Another journal is reviewing a second paper written by the researchers focused on these aspects of the study.
For the study, 14 children, ages 8-17, were given the opportunity to participate in a 45-minute judo lesson at the university once a week for eight weeks. The class was specifically designed for children diagnosed on the spectrum.
The general warm-up included activities such as light jogging, stretching, and tumbling. Following the warm-up, sessions consisted of a progression of techniques that focused on safety, stability, the use of extremities, and visual cues.
Individual completion of these exercises gradually transitioned to partner or small group completion as the program progressed. Each session was concluded with time allocated to practice breathing techniques and mindfulness, including participant reflection on the activities completed.
“This first cohort of students in the judo program showed positive results in achieving the desired health outcomes,” Garcia said. “We will extend the study with this cohort and others to continue to assess the impact of the program. If it continues to be successful, we look forward to developing a program that schools can use to implement their own programs.”
The findings are published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Source: University of Central Florida