12-year-old Daniel Winstanley, who is severely autistic, has made fantastic progress since taking up martial arts classes run by Karma in the Community at Mosscroft Community Centre in Huyton.
Before starting the classes Daniel’s family say he was more interested in computer games than physical activity and at first, didn’t have the concentration span to do more than a minute of the class.
But with the perseverance of instructors Thomas, Daniel and Simon Dodd and the support of his family, Daniel is now enjoying regular hour long sessions – and his family say the sport has had a transformational effect on how he manages his condition.
How martial arts has benefitted Daniel
Dad Chris explains: “Daniel rarely goes out, so his coaches and everyone at the centre are his social friends as well as his teachers.
“He’s a lot more aware of people and places now. He’s much better at following simple instructions. His temper is much better because he’s getting any aggression out in a more controlled way. Daniel reacts to sensory stimulation and because of that martial arts seem to work well for him.
“There are other health benefits. His skin is better because he’s sweating. Daniel doesn’t like change so there was a swimming group he used to go to but they changed it and so he didn’t want to go there anymore. There isn’t much out there for autistic children so his options were really limited.
“He loves it at this centre. People here know him and he feels quite comfortable here. While his brother and sister are doing their classes he’s happy to sit and play on the computer and say hello to people coming in.”
Improving family life
“It’s been priceless for us, as a family,” say Chris. “It’s hard to put into words. If you’d seen the progress he’s made over the year, you’d be amazed. He is now a lot happier leaving the house to do normal everyday things. His communication skills and hand-eye co-ordination have improved and he’s much more receptive now. It’s unbelievable how he’s progressed.”
Karma in the Community’s coaches have ensured they accommodate Daniel’s needs, moving session times to suit him and focusing the sessions on play, understanding that Daniel will sometimes make progress and sometimes regress. The family say this extra support has made all the difference in Daniel’s willingness to participate and how much he gets from the sessions.
His mum Harriet was so moved by the progress Daniel has made she even produced a
Could martial arts benefit other autistic children?
The work Karma in the Community have been doing with Daniel has been so successful that it has attracted the attention of the National Autistic Society who are investigating whether similar classes could benefit young people with autism across the country.
In Knowsley, Karma have already started working with 16 more families with autistic children. If they report similar benefits Karma hope to be able to attract further funding to offer the sessions to 150 families in the local area.
Thomas Dodd said: “I’ve been teaching martial arts for a while but Daniel has totally changed my perception of what is possible. Watching his progress has been incredible. If we can make similar changes for more families, that would be absolutely fantastic.”