Martial Arts for Special Needs Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • Martial Arts programs for 10yo with autism

    (2 replies)

    We are looking for martial arts class for my 10 year old son (he is diagnosed with autism). In general we are interested an outlet for him to exercise, gain strength, focus and confidence. I went over a few places but either they don't provide accommodations or are charging 5-6 times more than the typical rates. He is a sweet boy but would need more of an one-one or a small group class. 

    We moved from east coast and had excellent small group classes for kids with special needs. Just wondering if there are any programs like that in Bay Area. Looking for suggestions from parents. 

    Many thanks

    Pallen’s Martial Arts in San Leandro has been awesome for my almost 8 year old son with HF ASD and SPD. Feel free to email me for more details.

    Unfortunately, I don't have a place to recommend but if you do find a place, we would be interested in possibly checking it out too. I also have a 10y boy with ASD. 

  • I have a very active 8yo diagnosed with ADHD who has trouble following the rules of some organized sports. Our doctor recommended martial arts, but it sounds like the teacher is the one who can make the experience incredible or tortuous for ADHD kids. Can any ADHD parents recommend somewhere we can check out for our kiddo? He needs a physical outlet and a boost of self confidence! Thank you

    My son also has ADHD and has been taking silat (Indonesian martial arts) for years at Soja - the owner, Peter, is really good with him and has built him up over the years!

    There is a special class at Kuk Sool Wan of Berkeley (AKA Berkeley Martial Arts) on Sacramento in Berkeley. It is run by Nicole Yee. It is for kids with challenges including ADHD and Autism Spectrum. She is a great instructor with a kid on the spectrum and the assistant is young woman with developmental disabilities. I highly recommend you contact her at nyee26 [at]

    Hi there-

    Our ADHD kid is very happy at Seido Karate . They offer lots of classes during the week and on the weekend.  Sensei Todd has great patience with kids like ours and a good sense of humor. My son says that he not only feels physically stronger, but also has learned some grit that helps him at school. 

    My suggestion is for Kinetic Arts in Oakland, though it’s not martial arts as you requested. It’s circus arts center that my ADHDer has found immensely supportive and great for burning off energy. The coaches have all been very open to talking about our child’s needs before class or camp and are truly interested in understanding her needs so they can best support her. They have a bunch of classes every week, from basic intro that involves giant obstacle courses to trapeze to parkour, as well as camps during school breaks. It’s also set up in a way that we can watch and help redirect. 

    East Bay Martial Arts on Grand FOR SURE. They specialize in using martial arts as a tool for behavior, not building competitors or athletes. The owners are lovely. Very accommodating, accepting. 

    Thank you all so much, looking forward to finding the right fit for our guy!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Martial arts class for quirky ASD 1st grader

Oct 2010

I'm interested in finding a martial arts class for my 6-going-on-7-year-old son. I think he would really enjoy it and I'm sold on the benefits I've heard about from other parents: from developing strength and balance to fostering self-confidence and respect for others. Since my son has Asperger's, I'm looking for a class that's sensitive to the needs of quirky kids and not terribly rigid in its teaching approach. My son has participated in classes and camps in the past - gymnastics, drama, etc. - and the ones that have worked the best have been tolerant of his need to, for example, take occasional short breaks from group activity or express himself in an unconventional way. I think he'll really get into the discipline and ritual of martial arts, but I'm looking for an instructor who also mixes in a sense of play, humor and lots of patience. (Oakland and Berkeley preferably.) Any recommendations? Christa

I really like the Karate classes through AYOP at Ruby Bridges in Alameda. The teacher is exceptional with the kids, and there are several non-typical kids he works well with. He's gentle and fun, but instills a sense of purpose in them. My son LOVES his Karate class - he's in 1st grade. And they are CHEAP! mom of a yellow belt third degree

My kids fence at the Sport Fencing Center ( in Richmond (but only a six minute drive from my kids school in Berkeley.) Though there are age-divided classes, they have been very flexible about what my kids take. They are also focused on teaching at the level of each individual kid. The classes themselves have a variety of activities (not just fencing), which your child might respond to. Fencing might not be the first martial art to come to mind, but it's been great for us. Fencing parent

I would try Studio Naga in Oakland. We did a trial class a few weeks ago and loved it. The instructors seem very sensitive to 'quirky' kids (and there were a few in the class) and seem to have a great community-style approach. anon

Hello, I again highly recommend Studio Naga. The kids program is great ~ focusing on the whole person ~ and also have an existing program for children challenged in group settings. Also sending an e-mail directly to your address with additional information. Studio Naga 510.652.6242 Cinthia

We love Bay Mountain Martial Arts on Grand Ave in Oakland. Sensei Adrian is a wonderful teacher who truly has 'kid charisma.' I think that if you gave him a call to talk to him about what you are hoping for that he would be honest about whether or not this is something he would be able to work with in the context of the whole group of kids in each class. Good luck!! Nikki

Aikido for ADHD & Tourette's Boy?

Nov 2009

Our 6 year old son has been diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome & ADHD and has had a lot of problems socializing with other kids because of his tics and poor impulse control. Add on learning disabilities and he has had a very hard time at school and summer camp, always in trouble and now very depressed. He loves to be active, has done yoga in the past, and is good at sports. Some people have recommended he do aikido or another martial art to encourage focus and self control. Could this be a positive experience for him or would it be setting him up for failure & frustration? Are any particular activities or instructors especially good for kids with these kinds of issues? Berkeley Mom

I would talk to the chief instructor/owner of East Bay Aikido and ask him what he thinks. They have some wonderful instructors there for the kids' classes, starting from age 5 or 6. Aikiko would be a good activity for your son, in my opinion. It's an non-aggressive form of martial art, and I think especially excellent for children, as it teaches them how to resolve conflict without resorting to violence. My husband trains there and my son goes occasionally. The dojo is located just off of Park, on Leimert Blvd. The Sensei's name is Tom Gambell. Here is the info: 510 531 0303. sensei [at] aikido fan

I would check out West Wind karate school on University just above Sacramento. They have been wonderful with my son who has challenges with learning, focus and impulse control. The phone number is 841-1426. laura

Hi Berkeley Mom, I want to recommend Studio Naga to you and your son. They are on San Pablo Ave in Oakland near the Emeryville border. They practice an Indonesian form of martial arts called Poekoelan, but I recommend them not because of the particular kind of martial arts (although this one seems very accessible to even quite young kids) but because of the nature of the studio itself. It is a very supportive and nurturing place (although the folks their are also very serious about their practice and set high expectations for the kids who work out there). There are a lot of kids involved, all different ages, temperments, talents, and backgrounds. My 7 year old ADHD daughter studies there and it has been great for her. She gets what I had hoped she would get from martial arts study (discipline, self-control, respect, perserverence) but additionally everyone there is especially attentive to respect, inclusiveness, and a sense of responsibility for each other. I really appreciate the diversity of people there, the fact that the studio is operated by a woman, and the fact that kids and teenagers are represented in all ranks of practice. This last factor means that age has little to do with rank: you often see a 15 year old black belt instructing a 35 year old white belt. I see kids really thrive on the fact that their hard work can earn them real, significant respect -- respect that translates into adults taking them seriously. The young people then rise to the occasion and use their position (their rank) to seriously respect, teach and care for their juniors (younger kids, but also anyone junior in rank). As a result, you see lots of kids who I suspect are awkward or don't quite fit in other environments (my daughter has a lot of social troubles) really developing a sense of self, pride, and maturity. I am extremely impressed by the young people there and know they would include and respect your son. They also have regular events for kids (a ''kid's night out'' once a month, a summer camp) which allow the kids to continue to build community among each other. Feel free to contact me if you have more questions. Stephanie

Hi. We have a 10 yr. old w/both adhd and ts. He's been doing martial arts (kung fu) since about age 7 with great success. His tics diminish when he's moving and concentrating and he seems more organized after classes (2x week for 1 hour each). (no ''e'') in Albany. I'd think Aikido would be great as well; I like that both forms work on the being one's best self as opposed to pure fighting or self-defense (eg. non-aggressive). Good luck. Martial Arts Family

Aikido of Berkeley, run by Sensei Kayla Feder, is the most welcoming and nurturing place imaginable. Sensei manages to provide an atmosphere in which all are encouraged and none of the kids are unkind to each other, seemingly without ever having to raise her voice or speak sharply. While my son was attending aikido classes there, his confidence increased visibly, as did his physical coordination. I saw kids who might be ''loners'' or ''outcast'' in other settings, who were accepted by the group and whose strengths were celebrated instead of having their weaknesses highlighted. I can't speak highly enough of Sensei Feder or the program she has created. You can see a bit more about the program at, but I'd personally recommend that you go watch a kids' class to see what you think. Kathleen

Martial arts for ''difficult'' child

Aug 2008

Can anyone recommend any kind of martial arts teacher who is really good with ''difficult'' kids? My 9 yr old son gets easily frustrated and anxious when things don't go how he expects. He can be easily distracted and very disruptive in a class situation. In addition to his therapy, I'm hoping something more physical could help him with his focus, breathing, pent up aggression, bouts of depression. But I need to find a teacher who can deal with his issues either in private or small classes. Thank you. Ellen

My son is head instructor at West Wind karate on University - a top-notch school. I credit his martial arts training from a young age with giving him extraordinary discipline and amazing physical skills. I know he has a loyal band of parents who would do almost anything for him because he has turned their children around and kept them on track. They go way beyond the physical. Check out My son goes by the name ''Mr. Shah'' at the school and you can tour the school, talk to him and see how you feel about it. I also love that there are many strong, wonderful women in the school and much respect all around. Barbara

Ken Pitts, a former probation officer, is good with children with challenges. He teaches Tae Kwon Do and Capoiera for children and teens at Pitts' Martial Arts Academy on Lakeshore in Oakland. He does private lessons, which might be a good place to start before joining a class. If it's a good fit, it's a great dojo. Anon

I think any well-taught martial art in a reputable center would be very good to build esteem and instill discipline. But you might consider Judo. No chops or kicks. It's about using your opponent's body weight to his/her disadvantage. East Bay Judo Center, San Pablo, El Cerrito, just sent someone to the 2008 Summer Olympics.

i highly recommend berkeley kuk sool won, which is located on san pablo and dwight in berkeley. tom brewer, who owns the school, is a master teacher and works well with all kinds of kids and adults. my 11 year old son has been going there for more than 5 years, he is now a black belt and the experience has been wonderful for him in every way. kids and adults are in the same class, so parents can go to if they want to. check it out. heidi