By: Michael Rock

There isn’t a completely foolproof way to avoid dangerous situations. As a result, learning self-defense techniques can come in very handy.

People with developmental and intellectual disabilities are much more likely to find themselves in situations where they will experience physical and/or sexual abuse, due in no small part to the fact that they are socially conditioned to be more compliant than those without such disabilities, sending the message that their needs and boundaries aren’t important. Boston’s IMPACT: Ability, is one such specialized self-defense program designed to help people with disabilities defend themselves against sexual and physical abusers.

Other providers of specialized self-defense training include Peoria, Illinois’ Cat-Ching-Do Defensive Arts. Ray “Sonny” Couch III, the dojo’s head instructor, is an amputee who lost his leg in an accident, and developed his school to accommodate people with special needs who wish to study martial arts.

Meanwhile, Fort Worth, Texas’ Jane Justin School, whose curriculum is specifically designed for children with learning and developmental challenges, developed the “Hard Target Program” for students between the ages of 13 and 22 to learn self-defense techniques.

Self-defense courses for people with disabilities are not limited to the United States. In Mumbai, the Young Voices Program at Cheshire Homes India has offered such classes for women with unique challenges.

Such programs can be beneficial in ways to people with disabilities aside from the obvious. For those with autism, there is evidence that suggests martial arts such as tae kwon do can improve executive functioning and coordination, as well as reduce the impact of sensory stressors.

They may also foster confidence, as in the case of the Santa Fe Public Schools’ Kiva program, a karate class for young adults with disabilities aged 18-22. For such participants as Michaela Medina, who has a chromosome deficiency, the lessons the program offers not only promote balance and coordination, but self-confidence as well.

Regardless of the reasons people with disabilities may learn self-defense or martial arts, whether to learn how to escape dangerous situations; improved coordination and balance; or simply to promote confidence and self-esteem, there is much these lessons have to offer to them.

Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.