New Martial Arts Class Caters to Kids with Autism

May 1, 2014

Since his feet hit the mat at ATA Leadership Martial Arts, four-year-old Christopher Salerno fell in love with the sport.

He began by taking a regular class, but because of his autism, he was having a hard time focusing. It's a problem many children on the autism spectrum encounter when trying to participate in extra-curricular activities.

"He definitely needed a little more assistance in keeping on track because he's a little bit distractable," said Christopher's mom, Cherie Salerno.

Not wanting to distract other children -- but still wanting her son to get the martial arts experience -- Salerno proposed offering a class specifically for kids like Christopher.

ATA co-president and instructor Ryan Cirone quickly jumped on board.

Now, a group of kids on the autism spectrum meet at ATA twice a week so they can participate in a group activity tailored to their needs.

"There are a lot of things out there and people don't specifically exclude kids who are on the spectrum, but they're just more challenging when your kid's on the spectrum and you don't want other kids to be held back or frustrated with him," said Salerno. "So if it's something we can help them with, then we're golden."

In this special class, parents or aids are able to be by the kids' sides to help guide them through the class and keep them on track.

Parents and instructors say it's a good way to get the kids to work on their social skills and get some exercise -- on their own terms.

"It's not a team sport. It's an individual thing, so the student can go at their pace. One student may start at this level and another student might start at that level and it's perfectly fine," said Cirone.

For the month of April, the class has been working on focus. It's something Cirone says can be helpful to the children on and off the mat.

The ultimate goal is for students to be integrated into the regular martial arts classes. Salerno says that's something Christopher is striving for.

"I really hope that once he's able to build up his level of tolerance and be around a lot of kids and things going on around him and still focusing on what's going on he'll be able to move right on in with the regular kids," she said. "That's really our goal for a lot of the kids on the autism spectrum. It helps them to be around the regular kids."

The class meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at ATA Leadership Martial Arts in the Seminole Square Shopping Center.

For more information or to register, contact Ryan Cirone at 434-973-3000.

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