In fourth grade, our youngest son, Justin, transitioned from Montessori to a mainstream, neighborhood elementary school.
Well, at Back to School Night that first month, World Champion TKD visited the school and invited kids to come try out the program. Master Park was enthusiastic, full of energy and encouraging kids to come out and give it a try.
Justin was really interested – maybe a little to my surprise – so the next week we visited. That was about 2 1/2 years ago … and next month he will test for his Black Belt. What an accomplishment, and we are thrilled for him! It will be a big month ahead getting ready to test, and as the milestone approaches I couldn’t help but reflect on all that this program has done for him.
At first I wasn’t sure if Justin would thrive in the TKD program, was hesitant about whether being on the autism spectrum would get in the way of it being fun and his making progress. But, boy, was I mistaken.
- Physically – the TKD form, board-breaking techniques and kicking combinations developed his gross motor skills and his overall coordination. And Justin brought a level of precision and crispness to his work in form that I would not have expected. The normally loose and floppy little guy can turn on the intensity when practicing in front of his instructors, competing or testing. It’s like there is an ‘ON’ switch that flips when he is trying to earn a stripe, and great to know that he can dig deep to find that extra focus and commitment when he needs it.
- Emotionally – Justin really does not like to make mistakes, especially ones that are noticed publicly. But with TKD, you are constantly in learning mode as you earn stripes within a belt, and progress from one belt to another. That made it more ‘normal’ to realize that in the beginning, before we master something, we all make mistakes. That its nothing to be ashamed of and just part of life and learning and growing. He also learned about processing disappointment and bouncing back – especially when he thought he was ready to earn a stripe but he did not, and had to keep honing his practice to try another day. Hard to see him disappointed, but so important that he learn to handle that disappointment and not give up.
- Socially – One of my favorite memories of Justin’s TKD studies is the first time an instructor entrusted him with a small group of students in his belt, and asked Justin to guide the other kids through their form practice. He was BEAMING! And rigorous. While some might run the group through, then goof off or take a break, these kids did constant drills for about 15 minutes solid … he was focused and a little taskmaster! Who knew?! Master Park is very clear with all the students that he expects them to be students of great character – being respectful, diligent and kind. Through parent report cards, he publicly shares the kids results with the class – praising those who are dong well, and challenging but also encouraging those who are not meeting those standards at home with their families.
Then there’s the impact of setting a long term goal and working diligently until you attain it. That’s something that I know will stay with him and help him feel that he can set other big goals and through commitment and hard work achieve them. The confidence that comes with that is terrific and I am so glad that we visited the dojang way back in September 2011.
And like everything else in life, Justin would be ready for this big milestone without the support, encouragement and coaching of Master Park and all of his instructors. We thank you SO much!! Now for the final stretch to get ready for testing day next month.
I know that each child on the autism spectrum is unique in their abilities and their areas of challenge, and tae kwon do may not be right for many. But in our case it has been a blessing and really helped with Justin’s development. Our other son who is neuro-typical is also in the program and it has been great for him, too. Just focused this post on his it has helped with the development of our youngest.