"Never underestimate the ability of your child... they will surprise you with what they are capable of doing and never be afraid to try new things," said Bernadette Jayakumar about enrolling her son Nevan in Taekwondo. The third grader at Shaull Elementary School in Cumberland County has autism and faces a number of developmental challenges.
Brandon Keeton is the owner of Tiger Rock Martial Arts of Central Pennsylvania in Lower Allen Township and says that taekwondo teaches structure and discipline and can offer huge social, mental and physical benefits for children living with autism and those who are not.
"The other kids can see them putting forth an effort in everything they do and that inspires them to get better as well. It shows the kids a different view point and the more diverse view points you have, the better your life is gonna be," Keeton said.
He also said it's not just the students who grow.
"I was in the marine core for 21 years and every day we had a mission to do and this is my mission now and I`m happy I`m able to accomplish it with kids, all kids, but especially with kids like Nevan and Angela," Keeton said.
Angela Wang has autism as well and her mom Jenny had little expectations when she enrolled her daughter in classes a year and a half ago.
"When we first started coming, we were just hoping that she would build her confidence and strength because that`s what she lacked," Wang said. So she was extremely surprised when Angela passed not one, but several tests to become a Level 3 Green Belt who now spars.
Nevan's mom Bernadette has noticed her son's motor skills and coordination improve but is most thankful for the supportive atmosphere he gets to be in. She said, "The really cool thing about this environment is that even though he has different abilities, he is fully accepted no matter what he does. You can't put a price tag on that, it's so cool to see and he responds really well to that."
Responding to people, is something that Nevan now does, thanks to Taekwondo.
"Even before class when we come here, that social reciprocation or reciprocating greetings, simple things like that, we didn`t have that before," said Bernadette.
Class, she says, has helped him strengthen his body and mind one step at a time and Keeton says that's what martial arts schools are supposed to do.
"It makes me feel good that we are accomplishing that mission. Nevan and Angela are great reminders of how wonderful that world is," Keeton said.