Citizen Online Edition
Local instructor makes karate available to special-needs kids
By Roger Barnes
CONYERS — The discipline and training that enhances one’s life through the study of karate should be available to all youngsters, even those who have special needs, says Ryan Mitchell.
Combining a degree in occupational therapy with his love of karate, Mitchell has found a way to benefit a group of youngsters in Newton and Rockdale counties that most other karate studios overlook.
“My goal is that anyone who would like to learn karate should have that opportunity,” Mitchell said. “I teach individuals 4 years old and up.”
At World Class American Karate in Conyers, Mitchell currently teaches 12 special-needs students spread according to ability throughout four separate classes. He has more students scheduled to begin taking lessons in January.
Mitchell’s special students meet on Saturdays. World Class American Karate offers classes for children and adults throughout the week.
“The skills (my students) have to work extra hard on tend to be things such as balance, coordination, self-control, memory, strength and endurance,” said Mitchell. “We also work on social skills and respect for yourself and others. These skills are important for these children, because it gives them the tools they need to reach whatever goals they might have, whether it be socially, academically or physically.”
World Class American Karate also has collaborated with Mitchell on a mentorship program. The program allows other students to rub shoulders with special-needs kids.
“It also gives my students karate role models,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also works with a behavior specialist that assists with a couple of special-needs karate classes each Saturday.
He loves working with kids now, but Mitchell said he didn’t plan on teaching children when he was a student studying occupational therapy. He planned, instead, on going into ergonomics or geriatrics.
However, cold calls to clinics while he waited for a response to resumes he sent out led the 28-year-old to a pediatric clinic in Covington.
“When I interviewed with them, I felt good about the clinic and decided to try working with pediatrics for a few months,” Mitchell said. “I grew quickly to like working with the children. Every week now, I enjoy it more and more.
“As part of a conversation at the clinic, one of my co-workers commented that they wished that there were a karate class that some of the kids could attend,” Mitchell said. “At that moment, and with the encouragement of my karate instructor, Matt Johnson, I decided to combine my favorite hobby and my favorite group of people, the special-needs population.”
Mitchell said his love for karate grew from his childhood. He first thought karate would be a remedy for being picked on by other kids in the fourth grade. Instead, it turned out to be much more.
“Karate has helped to give me self-confidence, self-control and self-respect,” Mitchell said. “I am coordinated and driven during physical activities thanks to the skills that I have acquired through the practice of martial arts. Through karate, I have learned that my physical limitations are often only mental limitations.”
That lesson is passed on to his students.
“The children are excited and enthusiastic about karate,” said Mitchell. “I hope that my students will have fun and feel just like any other child taking karate.”
Ryan Mitchell OTR/L
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