An autism and ADHD friendly martial arts school in Denver Metro is co-owned by an autistic black belt who knows firsthand how autistic people think and see the world.

If your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder, or if you yourself are autistic, there is a karate dojo in the Denver Metro area that is geared towards students of all ages who are neurodiverse – as well as neurotypical.

Now, many martial arts instructors have experience working with children and adults on the Spectrum, as well as those with ADHD, plus those with AuDHD.

But these instructors, almost always, are neurotypical.

A neurotypical instructor will never, ever know what it’s like to be autistic – even a “bland” form of autism that comes with no support needs.

Whom better to instruct an autistic student in the martial arts than an autistic instructor?

Meet Sensei Lena Salgado, 44, who has a 4th-degree black belt in Shito-Ryo Karate and a 1st-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

The Air Force veteran not only has a child with ASD and another with ADHD, and not only does she have extensive experience instructing students of all abilities – but – she herself is on the Autism Spectrum: a clinical diagnosis at 37, after her son was diagnosed.

Sensei Lena Salgado of Martial Science Academy

An Autistic Martial Arts Instructor Brings a Whole New Layer of Expertise

Whether the student is autistic, ADHD or neurotypical even, and whether or not they’re kids or adults, a martial arts instructor with autism will automatically infuse the strengths of this alternative neurotype into their teaching.

Sensei Salgado explains, “As an Autistic Karate Instructor I have a unique perspective on our students, special needs and neurotypicals, because I try really hard to understand their behavior or thought process when learning.

“I can figure out their learning styles very quickly and adapt my teaching style and target each student.

“I also have incredibly good analytical and observational skills to see what they are doing right or wrong and help them fix it.

“Additionally, when we started going to Colorado Karate Association Tournaments, I could figure out what the judges were looking for and apply that to our Tournament Class students and improve their scores and placing quickly.

“I can also hyperfixate on certain things when teaching and share that with my students.

“I also show them daily that having a brain difference isn’t automatically a detriment.

“A lot of them are surprised when they find out because I basically squash all of their preconceived notions, and I love that!”

Martial Science Academy was created in 2019 by Sensei Salgado and Sensei Tom Beach with a focus on Shito-Ryu Karate, with five black belt instructors total.

Sensei Salgado with some young students.

This is the perfect environment for autistic kids, teens and adults who struggle to fit in with whatever group they happen to be in, such as at school, on a sports team, in the neighborhood or at the workplace.

However, sometimes neurotypicals have difficulty feeling at ease among their peers. MSA is for them, too!

Nobody Is too Clumsy for Karate

If a child or adult has always struggled with coordination and balance, and even if they find it difficult to walk in a straight line, karate is the ideal activity for them.

Martial arts doesn’t require coordination or good balance; it vastly improves poor coordination and balance issues.

Autistic Kids More Likely to Be Bullied

This is particularly true in the high school setting.

When an autistic individual has been training in karate, this leads to a marked improvement in how they “carry” themselves.

This confident demeanor will be noticed by bullies. Bullies don’t like to pick on those who exude confidence and self-assuredness.

However, should a bully ever become threatening to an autistic peer, a background in martial arts will enable that individual to defend themselves.

Repeat: Autistic kids and teens are far more likely to be targets for bullies than are neurotypicals.

What are you, the parent, going to do about this?

Renshi Lena Salgado and Renshi Tom Beach own Martial Science Academy in Aurora, CO, with the goal of teaching students of all ages, abilities and goals the physical, emotional and mental benefits of Shito-Ryu Karate. At MSA, they strive to create a safe and nonjudgmental environment. They love teaching and use different approaches depending on each student’s learning style to make Karate accessible to all. Follow on Facebook.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

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