I heard about Kicking the Spectrum on Twitter and was interested right away: autism and karate? I was thinking it would be awesome if there was an autistic Karate Kid. Then I got lost in daydreaming about how the original movie would have differed. Anyways, after snapping back into focus, I asked the people at Kicking the Spectrum if they wouldn't mind an e-mail interview. They didn't mind at all, hooray! So we get to learn more about this program and the people behind it:
Background information-personal connection to the special needs community
Working with children with special needs has always been something I have been pulled towards. When I was in the 6th grade, I was asked to be a “helper” in the classroom for children with special needs one day a week. I loved it! The following year, my younger cousin was diagnosed with autism. I was intrigued. I started doing research and learned everything I could about autism. I would visit my family and sit in on my cousin’s ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) sessions and soak it all in. I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I continued to volunteer with children with special needs in both my town’s summer school program and the local Challenger League, a softball league for children with disabilities. By the time I entered college at the University of Maryland, I knew without a doubt, that early childhood special education was going to be my major and when I graduated I would work with children with autism utilizing ABA. I had seen this methodology help my once non-verbal cousin become a high functioning individual in a typical classroom. Once, I graduated from Maryland, I found my way to an ABA classroom at a special needs preschool in Brooklyn. I worked there for two years and started my Master’s degree at NYU. During my time at NYU, I worked as an ABA therapist doing 1:1 therapy with children in their homes around NYC. Finally, I landed at the McCarton Center for children with disabilities, where I work as an ABA therapist.
Working with children with autism and other disabilities is not only a job for me, it’s a passion. I love the look in a child’s eyes when the “light bulb” goes off. Or when a parent witnesses their child have a breakthrough. It’s not often that a person loves what they do when they go to work everyday, I consider myself very lucky!
I started studying martial arts at 7 years old. It was recommended to my parents after I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Though I was unaware of the diagnosis, I took to martial arts. It helped teach me the focus that I needed in my everyday life. As time progressed my love for the sport increased and my desire to give back increased. At 15 years old I began to teach, mainly the younger students. My instructor, World Champion Tokey Hill, began taking me to do demonstrations with him; this was when I first was exposed to children with special needs. I was able to work at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children. St. Mary’s Healthcare System is one of only a handful of organizations around the country that is dedicated to providing intensive rehabilitation, specialized care, and education to children with special needs and life-limiting conditions. Subsequent to my encounters with St. Mary’s, I also worked with a child with Cerebral Palsy at a sleep away camp for 8 weeks.
I continued teaching throughout my remaining days in high school and through out college. I also have taught on and off through out the past few years and martial arts has never been far from my heart, however it hasn’t been until now that that spark has been reignited.
WHAT IS KICKING THE SPECTRUM?
It is a martial arts inspired program developed to teach and motivate students with special needs to combine fitness and wellness for life. This innovative program incorporates the fundamentals of Japanese Shotokan Karate. This unique program combines a martial arts instructor with an ABA (Applied Behavior Analyst) therapist in every class.
HOW WE CAME TO THE DECISION TO START KICKING THE SPECTRUM
The concept was formulated when David took a trip with his father (who is also a practitioner of the martial arts) to Ohio, for the Arnold Classic. This is a competition that is put on every year for many different disciplines, karate being one of them. While waiting for his dad to participate (yes at 67 he still competes), He had the privilege to watch several students with special needs participate in Kata. A kata is a series of movements that are choreographed patterns of movements.
Martial Arts is something David and his father did together for many years, so it was only fitting that David would take the trip with his dad when he decided to compete in this huge event. While at the Classic, David saw something that both intrigued him and energized him. He watched while children with special needs competed in this competition and he saw the look of pride on not only their faces but their parents as well. David came home and immediately told Stephanie what he saw and he thought it would be amazing to start a program to teach martial arts to children with special needs in NYC, specifically children with autism and other developmental disabilities. David excitedly told Stephanie how martial arts has been proven to help with focus and discipline and self-esteem. Having grown up with ADD himself, David felt that martial arts really helped him feel empowered and helped him learn how to focus and stay disciplined. These skills carried over to the classroom and helped him become a better student as well. However, David knew from Stephanie’s stories and from interacting with Stephanie’s cousin that children with these disabilities learn differently. Many conversations later, Stephanie and David came up with a program that was unlike any other program currently available. They would co-teach the martial arts classes, utilizing both a modified martial arts curriculum and the techniques of ABA that have been proven a very effective methodology in instructing children with developmental disabilities. This program would combine the passions of both David and Stephanie and would potentially help many families with children on the spectrum.
WHO IS WELCOME TO JOIN THE PROGRAM AND WHERE ARE WE LOCATED?
The program has been designed for children ages 4 and up, but exceptions can be made based on each individual. We are located on the Upper East Side of New York City.
At this point in time we are still in the early stages of the business. We have only been open a few months, but as time goes on we would love to share our success more with you and your readers.
We just want to say thank you so much for taking interest in our program. It has been a long journey to get this off the ground and we have high hopes that Kicking The Spectrum will be able to benefit the special needs community. If you ever find yourself in New York City you have an open invitation