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Ieuan’s Judo Journey

By Alex Hannah (Ieuan’s father)



Ieuan’s journey begins


Ieuan began his Judo Journey just over two years ago, while he was undergoing diagnosis for ADHD and ASD (he is also hypersensitive to sound). Ieuan has a fundamental need for rules and expectations to be explicitly stated and thoroughly explained. When Ieuan’s needs are met, he's able to be his happy and caring self. However, when his needs are not met, he can become dysregulated, be inattentive and have outbursts that are difficult for him (or us) to control. Ieuan’s needs were not understood or met for much of his early childhood, and this led him to leave mainstream education and be excluded from two dance schools.


By the time he joined the Judo club in December 2021 Ieuan had experienced a significant amount of rejection for a 5 year old.


It was after being excluded from a dance school Ieuan expressed his desire to try a martial art, and so we found KENSHO JUDO CLUB (Kensojudo.co.uk) in Redhill Surrey and met the instructor (Sensei) MKE HURST. I emailed Mike first to ensure we (Ieuan’s parents) would be allowed to support Ieuan during class. Mike reassured us we would be allowed to stay for the class and to come onto the mat to support Ieuan if needed.


This proved and has continued to prove critical; in a class with other children needing their attention it can be hard for an instructor to support a child with additional needs - especially when they become dysregulated. Having help from a parent can be key to a child accessing the sport, but too often classes have blanket rules that prevent parents from staying and helping. Mike embraced our help, therefore enabling Ieuan to engage and thrive.



Not plain sailing


The lessons have not always been plain sailing and I won’t pretend that they have been. When Ieuan has had a hard day at school, or if he’s argued with his friends before Judo, then supporting him can be like walking a tightrope. Any extra demand, or confusion over what is expected of him or what’s coming next can cause him to become dysregulated and have a strong emotional outburst.


Mike has worked relentlessly with us to find strategies to support Ieuan. These have included creating a visual table of the class structure so that Ieuan knows what’s coming next, allowing myself and his Mum to come onto the mat to support Ieuan (which has actually led to me becoming an assistant instructor at the club), and having a sensory tent on the side of the mat so Ieuan can decompress when he becomes dysregulated.


There’s always a way to enable engagement - it’s just about thinking outside the box. For example, when asked to pick a favourite technique during a session, Ieuan would become extremely dysregulated. Rather than taking him out of that situation, we found a solution that enabled him to stay engaged. I purchased a Judo book for Ieuan to browse and he would choose his favourite technique in good time, which enabled him to stay emotionally regulated when he was asked the same question during a session.


Something else that really helped and continues to help Ieuan thrive is allowing him to ‘take the reins’ and teach someone - such as his mum or a new pupil. Giving him that sense of control and also recognition of his expertise has often proved a useful way of helping him emotionally regulate and get back on the mat. He is a wonderful teacher, very patient and gentle.



Where are we at now?


We still have difficult lessons from time to time. However, with the efforts discussed above, Ieuan’s distress (and the disruption to the class) tends to be far reduced, and the difficult lessons are now greatly outnumbered by good ones. Now, during a ‘bad lesson’, Ieuan is capable of staying on the mat and continuing to practice - to do what he loves.


I would really like to highlight how instrumental Ieuan’s instructor Mike has been in this journey. He single handily runs a busy Judo Club and works very hard to balance the various needs of dozens of children, ages 5-16, per class. Yet he has approached coaching Ieuan with an understanding and supportive attitude, he’s been open minded and more than willing to adjust his approach, and again, more than willing to work with us to understand Ieuan and his needs.


In December 2023 Ieuan entered his third Judo Competition and won gold, producing some very good Judo and working very hard in every fight.


After the competition he said, “for the first time I am proud of myself”.


As a parent, hearing your child say these words after years of facing rejection from sports clubs and schools is beyond words. It has given him a self-belief that he didn’t have before.



So here are some tips for fellow ND parents;


  • Support your child to participate in activities of their choice: This being said, ensure you research the clubs carefully. Speak to the instructor and get a sense of their understanding of additional needs, and their willingness to make reasonable adjustments.


  • Support the instructor: Remember that the instructor or coach has a difficult job on their hands - one that most do purely for the love of their sport or activity. They have their own limitations and they don’t know your child as well as you do; so help them.


  • Look out for triggers: Try to be proactive and not reactive when helping. Look for triggers that lead to escalations in behaviour and let the coach know. A bad lesson is an opportunity to reflect, adjust and learn rather than feel disappointment.


  • Be prepared to leave a club and move on: If you come up against a coach who won’t adjust their approach, or who simply isn’t the right fit for your child, don’t be afraid to leave the club and find a coach who is. Remember - it’s about doing what’s right for your child and not a battle of wills.



The physical, mental, emotional (and therefore behavioural) benefits of participating and competing in Judo have been life changing for Ieuan.


I promise you that when you find the right club and activity for your child, the benefits to them will be huge.


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Thank you for sharing Ieuan’s story, Alex which resonated with me, especially “for the first time I can be proud of myself”. Mike and the club have been incredible and also given my son Liam a passion for judo and other martial arts.

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A really positive example of how much we can get from sport but more critically how vital a good coach is. My hat is off to Mike for opening up such a great opportunity. So many coaches gave so much to learn and he is a true role model. All the very best to Iuean and his family, thank you for sharing.

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