It’s great to see the Las Vegas Sun reporting that an 8-year-old autistic girl earned a black belt in Taekwondo. Sonya Dilks, who has been training since she was 2-years old, is one of the youngest students to earn a black belt at the DoJang martial arts center in Henderson, NV.
This is an encouraging story because it demonstrates that with the necessary support, an autistic child can excel even in an activity that requires tremendous discipline and focus. In Sonya’s case, she had the support of her two older brothers who were also enrolled in classes at the center. Over the course of several years, Sonya’s instructor and her brothers learned that by using colors as code words, they could keep her focused on the task at hand.
Now it looks like Sonya might try tennis or swimming because her parents believe that that these sports are well suited to autistic children. We have found that MJ really enjoys swimming. He gets to the pool twice per week, 12 months per year, and has made great progress in swimming independently. I don’t expect that he will be an Olympian, but he really does enjoy it, and we know that he needs the exercise.
It is sometimes challenging to find physical activities that an autistic child will enjoy. It is even more challenging to invest the time, energy and thought necessary to help them improve their skills and possibly excel at their preferred activity. David Dilks, Sonya’s father, described the process: “You do have your highs and your lows. It’s like a chess game. You have to think three steps ahead of the child to get them to do what you want them to do…It’s a train, and you have to get it back on the track.”