Autistic, down children learn martial arts (Video)

Belinda and Randy Shinn were hoping to find a martial arts class for their 13-year-old son Luke, who has Down syndrome, when they got in touch with a taekwondo studio here.

“We just wanted to see if he could fit into the regular class, because he’s been interested forever,” Belinda said.

After talking to the Shinns, Ken Ducote, owner of the Black Dragon Martial Arts studio, and wife Kristine developed a new class: Special Forces. It’s specially designed for students ages 10 and up who have Down syndrome or an autism spectrum disorder.

The Ducotes bring a unique set of skills to the class.

Ken Ducote is a licensed psychotherapist and Kristine has worked in the past with children with special needs.

Ken, 60, has studied martial arts since he was 20 and has a fourth-degree black belt. Kristine, 45, who began studying martial arts 10 years ago, has a second-degree black belt.

The couple opened their studio about a year ago. It isn’t a money-making venture at this point. They opened it for their love of the martial arts.

Before the Ducotes launched their Special Forces class, they convened an advisory board that included a special education teacher, a registered nurse and Belinda Shinn.

“We got a lot of good input,” Kristine Ducote said.

Ducote said she considered drawing up a kind of informal individualized education program for each student, the way that schools do for children with special needs, but decided it might be helpful for the class to focus more on fun.

“I feel like it’s giving them a social outlet, where they don’t have a lot of demands on them,” Ducote said.

The students in the class must be high-functioning and non-violent.

Applicants are taken on a case-by-case basis. Each student must also have a parent or guardian in the class with them.

At a recent class — they are held at 7 p.m. on the second, third and fourth Thursdays of the month — the parents seemed to be having as much fun as the kids.

“We’re really enjoying it, especially being able to do it as a family,” Belinda Shinn said.

Her son Luke can now add martial arts to the other sports, baseball and basketball, he enjoys with programs in Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes.

Allison Froelich said her son Andy, 10, loves the class.

Andy has apraxia, a neurological condition in which a person loses the ability to perform activities that he is able and willing to do, and also has ADHD.

Andy’s martial arts class is building his self-confidence, his mother said.

“Kids that aren’t as coordinated in sports as others don’t really have an outlet,” Allison said.

Now, she said, “He can say, ‘I do karate.’”

Link to Video: Special Forces