The benefits of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for ASD, ADHD, SPD

Children and adults with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), often experience sensory overload, anxiety, restlessness, and chronic stress, which result in meltdowns, irregular sleeping patterns and poor attention spans. Partly, its due to their difficulty to filter background noises, and their poor ability to self-regulate. Children who struggle with sensory modulation difficulties often can’t participate in seated activities long enough to complete tasks and they may also display behavior that is not considered socially acceptable. Martial arts help teach self-discipline and socialization skills.

Every child is different and so are their needs. If one method or technique isn’t working, try another one, but DON’T give up on the child. It took a while to find the right martial art for Jay to practice based on his interests and personality because each discipline requires slightly different skills and techniques in order to be successful. Depending on your child, they will prefer one over the others. Finding the right match begins by understanding each discipline and philosophy, and how it will help your child overcome their challenges.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is designed to allow a smaller person to overcome a larger opponent. BJJ is all about grappling and using your opponent’s bulk and moves against him. Ground fighting has been extremely beneficial for Jay because of the deep touch pressure he receives when he has someone else’s body weight on him.

Deep touch pressure refers to a form of tactile sensory input which is often provided by firm holding, firm stroking, cuddling, hugging, and squeezing. Deep touch pressure acts as a calming or focusing agent to increase activity in the parasympathetic division, and lower activity in the sympathetic division of the Autonomic Nervous System. This opposite movement of activity in the two divisions together work to increase endorphin levels (happy hormones) and decrease heart rate and blood pressure (indicators of anxiety and stress). Deep touch pressure also causes the release of both serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These are “happy” neurotransmitters and produce a feeling of calm within the nervous system.

Deep touch pressure’s role as a calming agent benefits individuals suffering from chronic stress, and anxiety (individuals with developmental disabilities, dementia and other special needs), individuals with high levels of anxiety (anxiety disorders). It also improves their ability to cope with stress and anxieties, giving them more control over their lives. For individuals with proprioceptive, vestibular and tactile sensory seeking behaviors, deep touch pressure gives them the sensory input they require and crave in order for the body to function effectively with the environment. Jiu jitsu is just as much mental as it is physical. No other sport offers the same level of mental engagement during physical practice as Jiu-Jitsu, which is why it is perfect for Jay and his struggles with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder).

I always ask parents, “What are you doing to make sure your child is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong in such a stressful world?!” The competitive aspect of the sport allows children an opportunity to test their newly acquired skills. Children will also learn how to feel brave under stressful situations, and how to take control of those uncomfortable situations. Whether it is escaping from a control position, sweeping an opponent or simply trying to figure out what to do next while under pressure, learning to deal with these challenges and problem solving can greatly increase the child’s capacity to deal with their own personal challenges.

Let’s talk. What are you doing to make sure your child is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong in such a stressful world?!

Teach! Learn! Enjoy!

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