Monday, August 24, 2015

The Plentiful Benefits of Japanese Karate for Children with ADHD, by Helen Dawson

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder in the US; around 11 per cent of children aged four to 17 (6.4 million) having been diagnosed with ADHD since 2011, and statistics show that the percentage is rising as the years go by. The average age of diagnosis is seven, though children whose parents feel their condition is severe tend to receive and earlier diagnosis. Treatment is varied and often involves medication, though many parents also seek natural method to counter symptoms, which can include an inability to concentrate or sit still, being easily distracted, impatience, interruptive speaking, task completion problems, etc.

The Importance of Physical Activity

Studies have shown that keeping kids with ADHD active is an ideal way to enhance focus and put executive functions (sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, etc.) into gear. Some experts deem exercise to be a useful alternative to medication, or, at the very least, an effective complementary treatment for those on medication. Indeed, exercise and ADHD medications have a similar effect on the brain, with both thought to increase levels of ‘feel-good’ chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine, which help individuals think clearly, concentrate on a task and control their actions

Japanese Karate: Benefits or Children with ADHD

Japanese Karate in particular is an excellent way for children with ADHD to focus, and learn the value of turn-taking, patience and reaching for goals. Some of its many benefits include:
  • Improved participation in class: A 2004 study published by a researcher completing his dissertation thesis at Hofstra University in New York compared two groups of children with ADHD; one group took part in martial arts classes and the other (the control group) did not. The children with ADHD showed a higher percentage of handing in homework, better academic performance, more frequent preparation for class, a decrease in the number of rules broken and a decreased number of times leaving their seat.
  • Reduced stress: Vigorous physical activity, as is displayed in a Japanese Karate class, causes levels of stress hormone, cortisol, to plummet, thereby instilling a welcome sense of calm and relaxation. In this peaceful state, children with ADHD can find it easier to concentrate on set tasks,
  • Learning important values: In a Japanese Karate class, children learn the value of respecting their instructor, but also fellow pupils and of course, themselves. Learning limits, taking turns and learning to communicate in a calm manner are only some skills pupils take away with them after attending karate classes regularly. Children also learn how to form part of a team with shared goals and with an interest in mutual support. Often, children with ADHD can feel isolated at school; through karate, they can learn the joy of being part of a group where help and critical feedback alike are accepted in a non-defensive manner.
  • Mental discipline: Japanese karate fosters mental discipline, with its emphasis on structure and concentration. Many moves need to be studied, observed and repeated various times before they are performed successfully. For this reason, this activity can be much more suitable for children with ADHD than less structured forms of sport.
  • Self-esteem: In the same way that children with ADHD can feel a little ‘out of place’ in class, their self-esteem can also suffer. Often, children are not diagnosed until they are aged seven or older and this can mean many years of feeling misunderstood. Sticking with a challenging sport like Japanese Karate and achieving many goals and improvements along the way can help kids understand that despite what others may have told them in the past, they are, indeed, capable of sticking to something and making valuable progress.
  • Self-defense: Japanese karate is not a violent activity; on the contrary, it teaches that physical defense is the very last resort. Having said that, bullying at schools is a global problem affecting too many children. Recent studies have shown that the negative effects of bullying last way beyond the childhood years; those who have been bullied as kids have a significantly higher likelihood of suffering from anxiety, depression and even heart disease. Bullying needs to be stopped at various levels – above all, through greater public awareness. However, it always helps to feel confident in one’s own strength; this can be achieved through Japanese Karate.
Further Reading:

"The Plentiful Benefits of Japanese Karate for Children with ADHD" was written by Helen Dawson.