An Autism / Asperger’s Success Story

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim

Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah

My son is taking Tae Kwan Do. He’s been learning for over three years now. I have taken him to class usually three times a week for the entire three years. It’s been a big commitment of time, money, and his effort, but it has been worth it. My sweet nine-year-old son will, inshAllah, test for his black belt in the spring. Not bad for a kid who can’t remember to clear the dinner dishes after every meal! But this is not about him, it’s about another student at the dojang (class).

Sally (not her real name) is a young lady of about 24 years. She has been coming for around the same amount of time. She would always, always come way early for her class. Sitting in the parents’ area, she’d strike up conversations with people. I found her to be chatty, sweet, and rather intense. I knew just from getting to know her that she was a bit different, but aren’t we all? After a while, she let me know she has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Asperger’s can manifest itself in different ways, I’m told. With Sally, it is extreme social awkwardness, fear in dealing with new situations, not knowing all the social niceties of interacting with people. All this notwithstanding, she’s a great young lady, smart, disciplined, fanatically interested in anything to do with the space program.

I think she saw our dojang doing a demo at the mall. Just overcoming her fear enough to come and sign up was really a big deal for her. She used to be terrified of Master Jin; now she reveres him. She would have her iPod on and would soothe herself with music in order to not bolt before class. She had such anxiety over testing for her belts that she would just zone out with a deer in the headlights look. Now, here is why I LOVE my son’s dojang: Knowing of her test anxiety, they secretly watched her while she was in a regular class and counted that as her test, allowing her to receive her first belts and develop self-confidence. Over time, she got more comfortable and was able to test with her classmates. She’d still have times when she was uncomfortable; I’ve seen her freeze in class when everyone was having a fun game of dodgeball. But she never gave up, never let her anxiety overcome her. Last October she tested for her black belt, and she passed with flying colors. To see her in her crisp white uniform with that black belt is such a triumph. She’s not related to me, but I feel so close to her and I can’ t think of what she’s done without getting a little verklampt. She helps out with classes here and at the other studio. She walks with confidence and knows in her heart that her Asperger’s can’t stop her from living a full life.

Are things perfect for her? No. She still has anxiety, she has a complicated relationship with an authoritarian father who I don’t think really understands how her brain works. Still, she has loving family and a group of people at Tae Kwan Do who are ecstatic that she has succeeded in this discipline. My prayers are always with her and she should be an inspiration to us all that we CAN overcome and we can get past our fears. May Allah give her hedayah and may Allah help her to succeed in this world and the next. Ameen.

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