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On the Mats, My Child Is Not Autistic

From the “it’s not about Jiu Jitsu” files, I heard an extraordinary (and for me, emotionally impactful) statement from a parent tonight – “on the mats, my child isn’t autistic.”

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of kids come through that carry the label ‘special needs’, in one way or another. As someone who has had my own challenges, I’ve always viewed the kids on the autism spectrum as My People. I can identify with a lot of the challenges they face and can see a lot of what’s coming at them, and I take a special interest in helping coach them.

I very much enjoy, and am energized by, hearing from the parents of all of our children about the positive changes they are seeing in their kids, whether it’s on the mats, at home, or at school (and that some of the kids report seeing in their parents who train, for the record – they are watching you!). Every person has room to grow, even the ones who look like they’ve got everything together, and seeing that growth is a source of joy and motivation. It’s especially rewarding to see it from the kids with unique challenges: knowing that we’ve constructed an environment where any child (or adult!) can succeed and realize growth within the same context, the same framework, and under the same expectations, regardless of the starting hand that they’ve been dealt, means that what we are doing is working, and that what we are doing is RIGHT.

So yeah. It hits me to hear “My child has goals now. My child is behaving in school now. We haven’t had a weekly meltdown in six months. My child sleeps through the night now. My child smiles now, tells jokes now.” This is the child that was there, the entire time, and Jiu Jitsu is simply providing the leverage to let them shine through.

– Coach Paul


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