dyslexia and martial arts

Managing Dyslexia Through Martial Arts

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and we’re taking a look at how a brain-boosting activity like martial arts can help offer support.

While dyslexia is most known for challenges related to reading ability, it’s actually much more involved. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003, p. 2).

In fact, current research shows that over 2.8 million school-aged children struggle with dyslexia. Fortunately, martial arts offers a unique way to help!

Here are just a few of the benefits individuals with dyslexia can experience through martial arts training:

Develop Motor Skills

Individuals with dyslexia often have difficulties with fine motor skills which can make activities like writing more challenging. Additionally, kids with dyslexia are often challenged with crossing the midline of their body. Martial arts drills designed to encourage crossing the midline help fire up neural pathways between brain hemispheres making it easier to recall previously learned material. Such drills include common warm-up exercises like bicycle crunches or crab toe-touches as well as pad drills that incorporate strikes from opposite hands and feet. Additionally, martial arts drills like sparring often require the use of both sides of the brain which helps develop new neural pathways and increases processing speed and problem solving.

These martial arts drills gradually work with and improve motor skills through repetitive combos and movements. Each new strike or skill might initially come as a challenge for a child with dyslexia; however, through patient instruction and encouragement, they can experience tremendous success in the martial arts. And this success will have a lasting impact on their cognitive skill development as well.

Increase Focus

Kids with dyslexia often find it challenging to concentrate. Fortunately martial arts is great for practicing and encouraging self-control and focus. In fact, focus-oriented drills that require a student to hit a specific target with a specific strike can help focus their mind and body simultaneously.

Ultimately, developing self-discipline is crucial of kids with dyslexia. Working through learning challenges can be exhausting and discouraging. Strong character traits cultivated by martial arts training like discipline, focus, and perseverance, can make all the difference when academic challenges arise. Kids who train in the martial arts are well-equipped to tackle challenges head-on rather than giving in to distraction or giving up entirely.

Practice Sequencing

Another common challenge for individuals with dyslexia is sequencing. Sequencing refers to an individuals ability to perceive items in a specific order as wells as remember that sequence. Tasks like learning the days of the week, months of the year, a phone number, the letters of the alphabet, and even counting, can be significantly challenging. Being able to sequence effectively is of great importance.

Martial arts helps develop sequencing skills through the instruction, memorization, and practice of combos and long forms.  Remembering long series of movements that combine opposite hand-leg techniques help to develop critical brain skills required for being able to sequence effectively.

Boost Confidence

Typically, kids with dyslexia can struggle with self-confidence. Martial arts training boosts confidence and helps normalize their experience. While kids with dyslexia can struggle with academic performance, they often excel in extracurricular activities. Participating in martial arts training helps equal the playing field. They may experience being “slower” than other kids in their class when it comes to reading, writing, or even math, but in martial arts, everyone learns at the same pace by belt rank. Each new belt rank offers an opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned in an environment where they feel supported and celebrated. They’ll feel more confident and begin to see themselves as more than just dyslexic…they’ll see themselves as a strong and confident martial artist.


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