Back in January Michelle and I attended an IEP meeting at Marc’s school. His PT and OT therapist both recommended that Marc gets involved in some type sport to help out with his low muscle tone issues. We’ve tried team sports in the past which Marc enjoyed some. I’ve found that it was difficult for the coaches and sometimes not fair with the other teammates though. Marc required more one on one time than what could be provided. I tried to help out as much as I could, but in the end, it proved to be difficult. After the end of a soccer season, Marc got a participation trophy which was great. This gave him a sense of accomplishment and was “all done with soccer” as he put it.

Gymnastics was what was recommended, so I hit the interwebs looking for a place that worked with special needs. I found a place that was local and Michelle called to explain our situation. She explained to them that Marc has PDD-NOS (a mild form of autism) and also has low muscle control problems. Michelle was assured that he would have no problem, they had a small class that he would thrive in.

We went for the first session on a Wednesday afternoon. The place was packed and this small class turned out to be 1 instructor and 16 kids. It was a horrible experience. These kids have been in this program for some time. The first thing they wanted to have Marc do was use the uneven bars. Never mind that Marc has never seen anything like that before, his fear of heights came into play right away. The rest of the afternoon went downhill from there.

Seeing that gymnastics was out, I posted on Facebook for ideas on what Marc could do. A bunch of ideas came from that post and two of them stood out. The first one I investigated was yoga. Not being able to find anything local, this did not pan out. The other recommendation that was provided was Karate, specifically Family Martial Arts Center (FMAC) in Fitchburg. Shortly after that recommendation, I got a private message from Mr. Len at FMAC and set up a meeting.

It was almost a bust right at the beginning when we got to the school. There was a class of older kids going on and they were working with weapons. This started to freak Marc out, he had no interested in using weapons. We were able to convince him to attend the meeting though which went well. The program was explained to us and Marc was taught a few basic things. At the end of the meeting, Marc agreed to go to a few trial classes to try it out.

The classes last 45 minutes and have two sessions a week. The A session is held on Saturday, Monday or Tuesday and the B session takes place on Wednesday, Thursday or Fridays. With my work schedule, Tuesdays and Fridays work best for us. The part I was most excited about is the need to show up 15 minutes before class to stretch out with the other students. This is really a big piece that Marc needs to deal with some of the stiffness in his muscles. We did a few sessions and Marc decided that this was something that he wants to commit to.

It’s been 3 months now and Marc is still going to FMAC. Even though it’s been a short time it seems that it has been a long road. About a month in Marc was ready to quit. Part of Marc’s PDD-NOS is that he processes a lot of information. For example going to a place like Texas Roadhouse where there the music is loud and the walls are full of signs and memorabilia is difficult for Marc. He easily gets into sensory overload and starts to panic. While I thought the group class would be where Marc has difficulty it turns out that the 15-minute warmups before the class has become a challenge.

The stretching routines are led by his peers that are not much older than Marc himself. It lacks consistency and varies from class to class when different students are leading the exercises. The lack of routine has been hard with Marc to deal with. My original thought on this was that these peers do not have the skills to work with Marc. They don’t have the maturity to adapt and change to the way Marc can learn. I’ve decided that as Marc makes progress, it is Marc who adapts to follow whoever is leading. It is a skill that he is developing.

I mentioned that Marc was ready to quit after roughly a month. This happened after the class that they had noodle wars. This was an exercise where the students battled using nerf pool noodles. Marc was having a meltdown over this because he wanted no part in using weapons. After that session, he wanted to quit right away. Michelle called Mr. Len stating that we wanted to withdraw Marc from the school. Instead of quitting right away we set up a meeting with Mr. Len. This was beneficial because Marc decided to continue on.

We still have problems getting Marc out the door and to class. This is all anxiety based though because once he gets to the school he does well and is happy about it. It helps that FMAC gives out stripes to put on your belt for completing tasks. Marc reads all the time. Now he documents each book he reads and turns in a paper at class once he has read 5 books. This gives him a wisdom stripe to put on his belt. There are a few other stripes that can be obtained, but their names escape me right now. Yesterday’s class Marc earned a gold star to put on his collar for bringing in his good report card.

The progress that Marc has made has been awesome. We still have challenges getting him to class. Yesterday was a difficult day with this. I finally had enough and told Marc that I was no longer willing to deal with his meltdowns. It was time for him to quit. Well, he was adamant that he was not quitting. Nope, he wants no part of that at all. He agreed to go to class even though he was a little late.

Turns out Marc was glad that he went to class. At the end of class, he was handed a black envelope with his name on it. This envelope contained an invitation to join the Black Belt Mastery Program. A quote from the invitation is here

After a student has trained for some time, we evaluate their attendance, testing scores, and overall character demonstrated both inside the classroom and out. If we believe they have the attitude and drive necessary, we invite them to begin their Black Belt training.

Marc has had a sparkle in his eye ever since he got the invite. I told him to take the weekend to decide if he wants to accept this invitation. As part of this, Marc needs to write a paper on where he is on his journey and where he would like to go. The program has some responsibilities as well as some perks. Marc needs to act as a good role model to new students. Some of the perks are the ability to buy Mastery Program Uniforms (Black/Red instead of white) as well as extended training at the end of each class. Things will begin to be more structured which will be a big help to Marc.

Overall this has been a great experience. Marc is showing more confidence and respect. Soon I’m positive we will get Marc over the anxiety of going to class. While it is not clear why he gets like this, I think a big part is the stretching exercises that happen before class. I’m going to start working with him each day doing these stretching exercises at home. I highly recommend FMAC to anyone that is looking to instill some core skills and moral values.

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