Does martial arts therapy promote pro-social behavior?
Yes, I think it helps with social behavior because I try to keep our classes at fewer than six children on the mat. Because it’s a small class, they have to interact with each other in a small setting. We teach them to give each other high-fives and we give them drills that they have to do together.
How is martial arts therapy different from a regular martial arts class?
In regular martial arts classes, kids are mostly working by themselves or maybe with one other partner. In our program, I try to encourage—especially since we’re working with children who have special needs and children who have social issues—to work with a different partner and to high-five a different partner, and to go and see how they can help or encourage a partner. That’s part of how we try and get the kids to socialize with each other more.
What age is best to start a child in martial arts therapy?
I think from the age of 3 or 4, depending on the child’s level of maturity. If you have a 3-year-old that is capable of learning a little bit more about his or her body or one who is more aware of his or her body and space, then you can try it with them. I always tell parents to bring their kids in and give them a try. If they’re capable of understanding that this is the place where it’s okay to release, but at home and school it’s not okay, then they’re ready to start learning. But if parents start noticing that kids are still not behaving at home after two or three sessions, they may decide that he or she is not yet ready for a class at this time. But usually by 4 kids are capable of knowing what is and isn’t okay.
Dr. Alisha Griffith-Berkeley is an audiologist (a clinical doctor who specializes in hearing impairments) with the NYC Department of Education and a certified speech-language pathologist who has worked with children with various special needs for more than 12 years. She has earned a second-degree black belt from the Vee Arnis Jujitsu martial arts program and is the cofounder of So S.M.Ar.T. Kids, Inc. She is also the mother of a son diagnosed with autism. Griffith-Berkeley has combined her three passions—speech-language pathology, helping children with special needs, and martial arts—to create a specialized martial arts program.