BY JOE MARVILLI
Some children have trouble socializing. Those who are autistic face greater challenges to come out of their shell. While Elijah Rincon does suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder, he has flourished due to the martial arts classes he started taking.
According to his mother, Melinda Grell, the 13-year-old Elijah was daunted at first by the physicality of martial arts. Once he started working with Joseph Lupo Jr. at the New York Black Belt Center in Bayside, he gained a newfound focus and enjoyment in the activity.
“In the beginning, he was a little bit intimidated with the kicks and punches. He’s not an aggressive child. I had him try it out and he loved it,” she said. “A lot of kids with autism, they’re very clumsy, not very well-coordinated. They cannot do two or three tasks. Now, at this karate school, he’s focused, he’s actually socializing a lot more.”
Lupo Jr. is giving Elijah private lessons until he catches up to the rest of the class, a significant improvement over the first martial arts school they tried. Elijah is learning tae kwon do, which Grell selected.
“We watched the class and I felt it was better for him, because it’s harder than traditional karate,” she said. “I wanted to see if I could challenge him and push him.”
Besides the newfound focus and training Elijah is receiving, the classes have helped him become more sociable and less shy, overcoming one of autism’s most-common effects. Even though he is not directly in the class yet, Grell said her son is engaging with other kids and even some of the adults in her kickboxing class.
Grell added that as a parent, watching her son overcome his shyness has been as emotional as when he started talking, something that she was told was in doubt. Elijah triumphed over that challenge, being able to say “I love you” to her. Now, he has taken another leap forward.
“Before, he was shy. He was not his age in social activities. Now, he’s just Mr. Social,” she said. “Every parent’s fear is your child not engaging, not socializing, in their own little world. It’s been an amazing experience watching him flourish.”
Lupo’s lessons have created a close relationship between the two of them, with Elijah viewing him as a role model.
“He looks up to him. He wants to be like him,” Grell said. “He even said when he grows up and becomes a man, he wants to be like Master Joe.”
While he has only been taking classes for about a year, Elijah has grown significantly, in terms of his concentration, sociability, engagement and coordination. Grell said that pushing her son to do martial arts turned out to be a great decision and recommended that other parents with autistic children take a chance and do the same.
“Any parent that has a child with ASD, they shouldn’t be afraid of allowing their kids to experience something other than what they’re accustomed to,” she said. “You’ll never know your child’s full potential unless you push him.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.