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Martial Arts and the Autism Spectrum | Psychology Today

Uncategorized Oct 22, 2019

Article by: Paul Zehr of

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to those who have difficulties with social interactions and communications. Across people there can be a huge variability in presentation of so-called “symptoms," hence the use of “spectrum” in the overall term.

I’m not a big fan of labeling, so now that I’ve got this out of the way, for the rest of this post we’ll just talk about the “autism spectrum” and not “people with," those “disabled” by, etc. It is what it is and lots of people do very well and have great lives. I don’t want to diminish them by using even accidentally pejorative language. Instead I want the focus on the potential everyone has.

In the autism spectrum, issues arise related to verbal and non-verbal communication, and social interactions involving emotional sharing and empathy. Behaviors where the same word, phrase, or movement is repeated in an almost or actual “obsessive” pattern are also often seen.

A common feature in the autism spectrum is performing stereotyped and repetitive movements. Which is kind of interesting for a different reason. This is also how you get better at motor skills—repetitive practice is the foundation of skilled learning. Particularly in traditional martial arts training.

With this in mind you might think that somebody in the autism spectrum should avoid doing repetitive physical skill training. That is, shouldn’t a physical practice routine that involves repeated punches, kicks, blocks, continuous patterns, etc. make things worse?

Apparently not, seems to be the answer. It’s got to be admitted that there is currently limited scientific evidence related to this question. But there is some. There are also the anecdotal experiences of those who have been involved in martial arts training with those in the autism spectrum.

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