“Because there was so limited resources, one of my main things was to increase and build those resources in our communities.” Samuels said the UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities is a state-funded program through the legislature, and there are seven of these centers in the state of Florida. She said at UCF, the center currently services over 19,000 individuals.
Children with ASD learn self-defense skills at the Family Judo for Autism program
“Research shows that if parents do stuff with the kids, they’re more likely to continue doing it since they’re doing it as a family,” Garcia said. In the spring of 2022, Garcia said her research team conducted another feasibility study to see how involved parents would be in the program and how parent involvement would impact their children on the spectrum. She said there were two sessions once a week for 15 weeks, one being child-only and the other including family.Sasaki said he has never had a job besides judo and that he grew up in Japan with only the sport. He said that judo is the only thing he can give to others. Sasaki said he moved to the United States in hopes of restarting his life and that he wanted to go to the farthest place from Japan as possible, even if that meant changing his language. For this reason, he came to Florida.“The kids love the gis. Some of the children have sensitivity issues, and they don’t want to be touched, but when they’re wearing the judo gis, they’re okay with it,” Garcia said. Garcia said different elements of the program are still changing from year to year because it is important that the program is conducted in a way that most effectively benefits the children. In addition to studying the changes and outcomes, Garcia said her team interviews the families to gather their perspectives on how the program went.Farrar said he is the “dummy” that the children work with to practice skills that require body contact after they’ve learned the basics. “First, they learn techniques without a person, like footwork. Then they throw me, everybody throws me. Then they get to the part where they’re actually sparring and fighting, they’re fighting me,”participants.Samuels said the UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities develops programs, like the judo program, for constituents within seven counties in Orlando and the surrounding areas. She said these counties include Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter, Lake, Brevard and Volusia. Samuels said beyond behavioral matters, early intervention is important for individuals with autism because many children have to start taking medications that often cause weight gain.Displayed good sportsmenship“She loves it, so much so that she has started taking Japanese online,” McElhinney said. “I think it’s just a fantastic program. I hope they continue it.”“The difficulty is communication. Not technique but communication. If you communicate (with) each student, you get close to them, and they’ll watch and check their habit, and then you can teach“Sasaki is really special. Not everybody can do it. He’s really got the knack for the kids and how to work with them. Sasaki is a total natural with the kids. They’ve got great respect for him, and they admire him,” Samuels said. Sensei Shinjiro Sasaki is a fifth-degree black belt in judo and is the owner of the Sasaki Judo school in Casselberry. Sasaki said he has been teaching judo since he immigrated to the United States 12 years ago, and his whole life revolved around the art of judo.Garcia said the College of Health Professions and Sciences has been working on various trials of this program in collaboration with the UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. She said the first trial took place in the summer of 2018 as a small 8-week program with children only. Garcia said this initial trial served as a “feasibility study” that would allow her team to gain an understanding of whether judo worked effectively for autistic kids and to see if they even enjoyed doing it. “To me, it’s really important that the kids like it,” Garcia said. “If they don’t like it, it’s kind of pointless.” From just the first trial of the judo program, Garcia said her team could already see a substantial impact on participants by measuring and evaluating the change in certain behaviors. Garcia said the program has already impacted the lives of its child participants in ways beyond what they could have imagined. “Parents will tell me stories about how their kids were bullied, but then they stood up for themselves because they felt more confident from learning judo. It’s really cool to hear stories like that,” Garcia said.Cindy McElhinney, the mother of 20-year-old Katryna McElhinney, said the impact that the Family Judo for Autism program has made on her daughter is “incredible.” “She’s very shy, but I’ll tell you, UCF CARD has opened her up a lot socially. She would play on her phone a lot, and doing activities with CARD has helped her come out of that. She likes to talk to people and meet people, which she had trouble doing because she’s so shy,” McElhinney said.Tayeba Hussein “Attendance was a lot higher in the family program because they saw it as a priority, a family activity,” Garcia said. “With the child- only class, they might miss it more often because of a family obligation, but in the family class, the judo was a family obligation, so they didn’t miss.”Garcia said the program’s team is currently applying for even larger grants in hopes of making the program year-round. Garcia and her team said it was important to purchase judo gis for the children, the traditional uniform worn in judo training and competitions. She said the uniforms have been very beneficial in seeing improvements in the kids.its participants.“It was not as good because there were no partners, and they couldn’t do it with someone, but some kids who have more social anxiety actually preferred the remote-based judo, and they were less scared of getting hurt,” Garcia said. Garcia said she wanted kids to continue participating in the program once they were able to return to an in-person setting, which meant they would need to somehow make it more habitual for the kids, which led them to consider making it into a family program.Children with ASD learn self-defense skills at the Family Judo for Autism program Kids with autism of ages seven and up learn judo alongside their families at the Family Judo for Autism program in the College of Health Professions and Sciences Rehabilitation Innovation Center.Sasaki said he has seen great improvements in the children in the program. He said during the first few classes, he would have to coax the kids out of the hallway and onto the mats, but now they will wait for him on the mats in anticipation of starting class. Sasaki said there has been only one challenge in teaching children on the spectrum.Samuels said one factor of the judo program that has been beneficial to the progress of its participants is the sensei who teaches the class. She said the program has had the same instructor since the very first trial of the program in 2018, which has also helped with consistency among some of the returningAdditionally, Garcia said her team utilized parent interviews to gauge an idea of how judo was benefiting the kids’ home life. “According to the parents, the kids talked more to each other, they talked more to the parents, they were more confident and they really enjoyed the program,” Garcia said. Garcia said CHPS Rehabilitation Innovation Center ran the program a second time in the summer of 2019 and again in the spring of 2020, but halfway through that spring, the program had to transition into a virtual setting over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the remote version of the program had strengths and limitations regarding how kids were impacted.Once a week for 45 minutes, kids ages seven and up have the opportunity to participate in a 16-week martial arts class that teaches them basic self-defense techniques. Dr. Jeanette Garcia, director and primary investigator of the program, said the Family Judo for Autism program is intended to impact and benefit children with autism in a variety of ways, including improving their sleep patterns and social interaction skills.Judith Samuels, autism disorder specialist and program manager, worked alongside Garcia to establish the judo program. Samuels said much of her inspiration to develop a program like this was thanks to her own son, who is diagnosed with ASD. “When my son was diagnosed, there were really no services, noFarrar said he learned about judo several years ago when he temporarily attended UCF and joined the university’s Judo Club. He said Sasaki was the instructor at that time, and this is how the two came to work together. “I had no idea what judo was. I went to UCF, and I was looking at the list of clubs, and I saw the judo club. I took a class, and now seven years later, I have a black belt,” Farrar said.“I’ve seen one of the kids, his name is Isaac, he felt like if there were too many eyes on him, he would shut down and not want to do anything. Now he looks at me and just wants to throw me all the time now. I can see how he’s gotten comfortable,” Farrar said. Isaac Levine, who is 12 years old, is participating in his second year in the UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities family judo program. His father, Jason Evans, said he is happy to see how the program is benefiting Isaac and their family. “He loves it, and it gives him something challenging that he enjoys doing, and I can get him off the video games pretty quickly,” Evans said. “He had tried martial arts before, and he hadn’t had a lot of success, but he’s a lot better. It’s been great.” Evans is not the only parent who is pleased with the program.support whatsoever, so I dove in head first, went back, changed degrees, schooling, everything, and ended up working in the field as an autism professional,” Samuels said.Sasaki said he first started taking English classes but saw no progress. He then began attending judo practices at an American martial arts school, which he said had the greatest impact on his English skills. After this, he was able to begin teaching judo himself.In the first few years the program took place, there was much less funding going towards the initiative. Garcia said the program received a ,500 grant from the Morgridge International Reading Center and the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute for the first few trials of the program. However, she said last year the program received a donation of about ,000 from the Fraternal Order of Eagles.Farrar said when Sasaki first came to him and requested his assistance in teaching the program last spring, he was unsure of what to expect. However, he said he was shocked by the end results. “I’m always super impressed by the progress that is made. The progress they make from day one to the end is crazy,” Farrar said. “To see these kids go from being scared and not wanting to grab anyone to wanting to fight me and throw me down as hard as they can is really impressive.”That’s the key.” Sasaki said the addition of family has allowed greater improvements in the confidence of the children. “This program is good because the parents help their kids. Kids, they are afraid. Once they get scared, they cannot do anything. Just having parents helps a lot,” Sasaki said. Working alongside Sasaki at the Family Judo for Autism program is black belt Izaya Farrar, who the children call Sensei Izaya.After seeing how pleased participants were with the family program last spring, Garcia said her team discarded the child-only session for this spring semester and made the program entirely a family program.McElhinney said that her family heard about the judo program through a newsletter virtually sent out by the UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities every month. She said her daughter has been participating in the judo program since 2019 and hopes to keep participating in future years.Garcia said the benefits of a family program were much greater than that of the child-only program because parents are familiar with the behaviors of their children, so they are able to more intimately help and correct their child’s techniques. She said that parents were also happy to be given the opportunity to bond with their kids, both in class and at home, where they could practice the skills they learned.Gary Takemoto & Scott Galles served as the head officialsMcElhinney said she had learned about the UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities early in her daughter’s life and has been involved with the center for many years. She said she likes to take advantage of a lot of the programs that they have to offer. “I highly recommend them,” McElhinney said about the UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.“We use accelerometers, kind of like Fitbits, to measure their physical activity. We also look at their sleep during these studies because kids with autism, almost 90% of them have poor sleep, and judo, which is a mind-body activity, is supposed to improve sleep outcomes,” Garcia said.Farrar said. “Every time I get to class, they’re like, ‘I want to throw you. Izaya, can I throw you? Can I throw you?’ And then, by the end of class, I’m drenched in sweat because everyone was throwing me. It’s a really cool feeling.” Like Sasaki, Farrar also said one roadblock he has encountered while teaching children with autism is that they will sometimes “shut down,” but because they have family members there to act as a support system, the children are able to overcome the obstacle throughout the course of the program.Kids with autism spectrum disorder have the opportunity to participate in judo classes with their family every Saturday at the College of Health Professions and Sciences Rehabilitation Innovation Center. Children who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder fill the halls of the CHPS Rehabilitation Innovation Center and put on their judo gis in anticipation of throwing around a fifth-degree black belt judo master every Saturday afternoon.“We adjust things based on what the families think. If they have issues with something and they make suggestions, we take it very seriously. We’ll adjust the program based on their input,” Garcia said.techniques,” Sasaki said. “My style is that I teach techniques to everyone in front of them, but after that, I watch each student.“They start gaining weight, start becoming obese in younger ages, and then in adult ages are obese, and of course, at that time, it’s hard to change eating habits or exercise habits. Most of them have sedentary lifestyles because they don’t have friends,” Samuels said. However, Samuels said athletic programs designed for people with ASD made it easier for autistic kids to be social and make friends. She said many parents never thought that such progress would be possible for their children. “We did see a decrease in certain behaviors, better communication skills, and most importantly, they felt that they belonged,” Samuels said.