Friday, 4 December 2015

Karate and autism continued: Kiai!

Gichin Funakoshi
"We concluded that teaching Karate techniques to children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] leads to significant reduction in their communication deficit."

That was the [research] bottom line from Fatimah Bahrami and colleagues [1] continuing their very interesting voyage into looking at how aspects of the martial arts might well benefit some people on the autism spectrum. I mention the word 'continuing' because this authorship group from Iran have some research form in this area previously covered on this blog (see here).

In their latest paper, the authors took to looking at how another core area of autism - communication issues - may also be impacted by kata training (that is, the various structured movements against an invisible opponent(s) practised as part of karate). This time as previously, the kata in question was Heian Shodan, the kata normally used to grade transition from orange belt to red belt in Shotokan karate. Helpfully, the authors also provide their own video of the kata used as supplementary material to their paper.

Their results, based on a similarly small group of children with autism assigned to kata training (n=15) or a control (n=15) as in previous papers, suggested that after 14 weeks of training the "Exercise group showed significant reduction in communication deficit compared to control group." Such gains seemingly persisted at 1 month follow-up too.

Appreciating that there is quite a bit more science to do in this area, including that taking on board how issues with simulative skills with autism in mind [2] might interact with the practise of martial arts training (being careful about over-generalisation [3]), I continue to find this an area of real interest. Associated research hinting that regular exercise and motor skills training might benefit quite a few aspects of autism (see here) emphasises how something like practising kata could represent a 'good fit' for quite a few children and adults diagnosed on the autism spectrum. This alongside the wider potential benefits to be had from martial arts training (see here), bearing in mind aspects like kumite might not be to everyone's taste. Dare I also even start to talk about the more 'spiritual' side of some of the martial arts (Zen played a role apparently) intersecting with some interesting case reports with autism in mind (see here)? (being careful not to fall into the bull**** trap [4]).

To close, I note that one of the national governing bodies for the martial arts here in Blighty has already come around to the idea of further opening up the sport to those on the autism spectrum.

Why not give it a try? Kiai!


[1] Bahrami F. et al. The Effect of Karate Techniques Training on Communication Deficit of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Nov 17.

[2] Conson M. et al. Body Constraints on Motor Simulation in Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Nov 16.

[3] Torres EB. Atypical signatures of motor variability found in an individual with ASD. Neurocase. 2013 Apr;19(2):150-65.

[4] Pennycook G. et al. On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making. 2015; 10: 549-563.

---------- Bahrami F, Movahedi A, Marandi SM, & Sorensen C (2015). The Effect of Karate Techniques Training on Communication Deficit of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 26577688