I said I'd do it, and here I am. Since this is my TKD blog, I thought I'd write about this subject, at least here, from a TKD point of view.
My son, as many know, has some disabilities. They mostly have to do with speech, some global motor control, low muscle tone, sensory integration dysfunction and some emotional/learning issues. While his disabilities may not be as severe as someone who is obviously cognitively or physically disabled, it is still difficult for the reason that it isn't always that obvious until you have to deal with him on a constant basis. When you first encounter him, you figure that he's generally a normal kid, albeit he speaks a little more slowly and immaturely compared to his peers.
Drew is a kid who needs a lot of OT type activities so that he can stay focused. When he was a toddler, I'd bring him to kiddie gym classes and music participation classes so he could get up and jump and dance and run. He loved it. But, one grows out of that, and you start trying to figure out what else he could do. Before he was even born, I had always figured out that I wanted a son to take martial arts, as I figured that martial arts has similar self-discipline as ballet did, which worked for me as a child who didn't know she had sensory issues herself.
So when I came across the ATA school where we go, I was happy to find a place that showed things the way I expected a class to be. I had taken him to a trial of a class that was a gymnastics/karate class at a Little Gym, but I felt the teacher talked more than the kids did, and it wasn't what I was looking for. I was looking for something that was more traditional, but wasn't a boot camp. So I found the school we are at now, and I am glad for the choice. I don't know about other TKD or martial arts schools, but the ATA actually promotes working with special needs kids. When I saw that the class before Drew's preschool class WAS the special needs class, and saw kids who had disabilities that were much more impactful than his, I knew I had picked the right school. I mean, if they could work with kids that were profoundly autistic, or had Downs, or other things along those lines,then they could work with my kid for sure. And believe me, they have been MORE than patient with him over the years!
I think what has also impressed me about the ATA is that it's not limited to outreaching to the cognitively/mentally disabled. There are two young ladies in particular that impress the hell out of me at our school, because both are physically disabled due to one reason or another, and yet both take regular classes. (Yes, you know who you are Em and Pen!) Emily either works from her walker or her wheelchair, where Penelope chooses to work from her wheelchair alone. Emily has been the women's World Champion for many years, but she proves herself every time you see her. She knows her stuff very well, as if she were a walking encyclopedia of ATA rules and TKD. She's been taught to learn how steps and positioning in all aspects of TKD as if she were a typical person, because she wants to teach and thus understands how to tell someone like me how to fix a foot position, or remembers stances better than me even if she doesn't do all of it herself. She is due to get her 3rd degree belt in the fall, and she's definitely earned it. She's also earned her orange belt in Gumdo as well, so she's pretty accomplished already, and I have a feeling she's just getting started. Pen just started about a year ago with TKD, and her willpower and dedication is such to be envied. Due to being a college student, she has to do some of her TKD studies on her own, and since there are some slight variances in how the form is taught to herto accomodate her position in her chair, that can't be easy. But, as she tells me, she practices EVERY form and one-step all the time so she doesn't lose it. I can't even do that! While she is still a color belt like me (well, a slightly lower rank as she started after I did), she proves herself every time as more than capable of doing what's expected of her and more. She is a force to be reckoned with in the making, I fear. ;-) She is going to be an awesome black belt!
Between both of these ladies and my son, they have shown me that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Yes, there may be some adaptions that need to be made, but in the grand scheme of things, they are minor. I would easily say that Em and Pen are more dedicated martial artists than I am on any given day, and it shows. They would have earned my respect even if they were not wheelchair bound. And that's the whole point now, isn't it? People with disabilities are no different in their hearts than any of the rest of us, even if they have some variant that makes them different in the way they can move or think.
This is why I like the idea that the special needs class at our school is called the "Special Abilities" class. In my mind, it always meant to emphasize the idea that while there are other things that go on to impede the normal progressing of learning, it's the special things that these kids and people CAN do that make them what they are, and that's where the emphasis should be. :-)