Martial arts have transformed young Amber Kelly’s life, helping her to control the symptoms of dyspraxia, a condition that causes poor co-ordination. Her mum Theresa is in no doubt that without weekly training sessions her daughter would not be the confident child she is today. HILARIE STELFOX reports
DYSPRAXIA is a little understood condition that causes the sufferer to appear clumsy and badly co-ordinated.
When Amber Kelly, now 10, was a toddler it became apparent that she had a poor sense of balance and couldn’t run or walk as well as other children the same age.
At the age of six she was diagnosed with dyspraxia and ever since she has struggled with the symptoms.
But Amber, who is from Lowerhouses, has found an unexpected way to improve her co-ordination.
At the age of seven she joined a Filipino martial arts class run by Huddersfield champion Rebecca Kane at the Kane Academy. Although she found it difficult at first, she’s continued to battle her way through training sessions, is now a red belt and is working towards her fourth grade.
Her hard work and commitment led to her being given the academy’s Student of the Year Award.
Amber said: “My friend told me about it and I thought I’d try it and I liked it. I liked Rebecca and I’m learning about how to defend myself, which is cool.”
As well as attending martial arts training sessions every week, Amber also goes along with her mum, Theresa, to a fitness class at the academy, which is based in Perseverance Mills, Lockwood.
Theresa said: “Amber was diagnosed after she started nursery school. Her walking and running were very unco-ordinated and her balance was not too good.
“But the martial arts have helped a lot. She was doing co-ordination exercises at school, but she’s been able to stop them. We have been able to get her to learn to swim and ride a bike.”
Not only has Amber done well, she’s also encouraged her two cousins, Jamie and Christopher Kelly, to join the martial arts club along with her aunt, Amanda Booth.
Rebecca said: “When Amber first joined her balance was off and it was very hard for her to do basic tasks. Holding her leg up and kicking out was difficult but, funnily enough, she could do the complicated drills.
“Amber is really intelligent and picks thing up quickly. Her kicks are improving a lot.”
Amber, a pupil at St Joseph’s Catholic Junior School, has made such good progress she is now allowed to spar with other students and is hoping to be included in a demonstration team in October when world-class Filipino martial arts champion, Brazilian Wanderlei Silva, arrives in Huddersfield to officially open the academy.
Rebecca encourages children as young as three to start training and calls her junior section The Little Warriors.
She is a firm believer that martial arts can benefit anyone, at any age, and wants to see whole families training together.
Rebecca added: “Martial arts are great for co-ordination because the children are picking up patterns of movement and doing drills that rely on timing. It’s brilliant for their development.’’
The Kane Academy was founded by Rebecca almost a year ago.
She has spent the past 12 months getting the premises knocked into shape, providing a gym and dance studio, as well as a large sparring and training area.
Rebecca, of Crosland Moor, is also an award-winning Irish dancer and has a degree in English and History from Huddersfield University.
During her time as an undergraduate she took five world titles in Filipino martial arts at three world championships.
Kathy Moorhouse from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire co-ordinator for the Dyspraxia Foundation (www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk), agrees that repetitive exercises such as those performed in martial arts can help with co-ordination problems.
It’s also an ideal sport as it doesn’t involve throwing or catching a ball – an activity that children with dyspraxia find very difficult – and revolves around individual learning.
Kathy, whose 20-year-old daughter, Amy, has dyspraxia, said: “Children with dyspraxia often feel they are letting their team down and may choose to opt out of team games.
“Where appropriate, it’s better to allow the child with dyspraxia to continue to focus on skill development, rather than team games.”
She added that martial arts also have rewarding goals through the grading system which are important for building self-esteem and confidence.
Kathy believes that it’s vital to get children with dyspraxia interested in a sport they enjoy.
She said: “Difficulties with motor co-ordination often affect children’s participation in physical activities both at school and at home.
“Frequent failures mean that children may not be motivated to join in or to try new activities and their physical difficulties can make them feel isolated from their friends.
“If children continue to avoid physical games and activities, over time this will affect their overall level of fitness and well-being.
“With support and guidance, however, children with dyspraxia can be encouraged to participate in physical activities which will help them to be healthy throughout their lives.”
According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, dyspraxia is thought to affect up to 10% of the population and up to 2% severely.
Males are four times more likely to be affected than females.
Dyspraxia sometimes runs in families and may be accompanied by other conditions such as dyslexia and Asperger’s Syndrome.