Helping them make the grade
A belting Speke karate class for young people with autism is believed to be the first in the region to have its neurodiverse participants graded, at so-called Dans.
Funding from the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership (MVRP), has meant that grading exercises have been staged at the Lifestyles Austin Rawlinson gym, enabling participants to progress through their white, amber, and orange belts.
And Chris Cray from Malvern Shotokan Karate, who run the weekly sessions, believes this is a key component.
“We have adapted the training so that we “show” the young people rather than tell them, work at their own pace, and sometimes help them move, as coordination can be a problem” said Chris. “They learn self-discipline and concentration, but it is the grading that shows them – and others – that they are on a journey and can progress.”
The training to enable instructors such as Chris to coach neurodiverse people, has been provided by Julie Simpson, who founded Autism Adventures Training upon seeing there was little activity for children like her son, Joe.
Julie herself has trained over seventy-five businesses to be autism-friendly and together with Malvern, would not even let a pandemic get in their way. Paid for by Chris and Sam from Malvern, students were sent Frisbees and other toys to make sure they stayed active during the Lockdown.
Julie’s lived experience also enables her to recognise the importance of respite for parents, who gather outside the windowed gym to catch-up during the lessons.
Said Julie: “We started with football and then boxing and swimming and were helped by local groups who came into our previous location in Halewood. We have some fantastic instructors, but they have to be paid as does the rent. The MVRP funding has allowed us to take the next step in paying for uniforms and for grading. We have a star of the day award, and you can see what it means to the young people. No one else believed it was possible to grade those with autism, but we have achieved that.”