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Fighting for Autism has brought a new therapy for children who are autistic and are within the spectrum.

They recently started a Kickboxing Therapy program and it’s in the process of its trial run. Managing Director of US Operations of Fighting for Autism Brian Higginbotham said the Kickboxing Therapy has been such a great success and all the kids are really having a good time.

“They are making significant progress with what they are doing in a therapeutic perspective,” said Higginbotham. “It helps so many kids. It’s a one-hour long class over a series of weeks and all the kids that are participating in the one we are doing at Dr. Avi’s office have gone through four sessions so far.

"Their first day they couldn’t put a glove on and had no idea how to properly punch. Now they are doing eight strike and ducking under counter punches. It’s pretty cool to see the development and progression of the kids. That’s probably the biggest thing for us.”

Just recently Fighting for Autism partnered up with Pediatric Neurologist Dr. Avi Domnitz-Gebet with the Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Center in St. Charles for this kickboxing therapy program. Which wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Changeable Chewables.

“When I met Dr. Avi Domnitz-Gebet she recommended my product for autism sensory/developmental delays and then I was contacted by Fighting for Autism a few months later,” said Christina Hannah, Owner/Inventor of Changeable Chewables. “When Higginbotham told me about a new program they were wanting to incorporate into therapy, I remembered Dr. Avi was wanting to work with an organization for autism. So I scheduled a meeting for us all to meet.”

Changeable Chewables is an accessory that can help children with developmental delays, and sensory delays. The accessory helps them to stop chewing on items such as clothing and other objects by chewing on the necklace instead. It can also help with oral strengthening and is great sensory tool that can help calm the children as well.

“Changeable Chewables can help with hand-eye coordination, prevent children from chewing on other objects, and is overall a great tool for children with developmental delays,” said Domnitz-Gebet.

Higginbotham said they plan on spreading the new kickboxing program around the world and that they are trying to help improve the quality of life for kids and families that live with autism. They are looking for doctors offices or facilities that would want to host this program to reach out to the local autism community in St. Francois County. They are more than happy to get the program started.

Dr. Avi said they started the boxing therapy which is open to all of their patients and families. It is a great fit and will teach the children responsibility, self-control and will help build their self-esteem. She added that they are using it on all of their kids with ADHD, anxiety and autism.

Joe and Erica Worden of Park Hills currently run a MMA training out of Universal Fitness in Park Hills and also are heading up kickboxing therapy. Erica said that she helps Joe out during the sessions to help have more one on one training.

“We teach the kids techniques, the proper stance, how to throw punches and we associate each punch with a number,” said Erica. “Those kids on the extreme end of the spectrum, they have a hard time crossing midline. So when you’re throwing punches you have to cross your body and it’s all about trying to get them to associate punches with numbers and crossing their midline. There are a variety of kids within the spectrum that attend the trainings.”

She added that once the program in St. Louis is over, they would like to start one in St. Francois County and try to alternate the programs.

Joe said it was a concept that he and Brian came up with. He volunteered to coach the kids and basically what he does is teach them a real basic number system with kickboxing.

“That way they become repetitive, they remember numbers and they cross their center line,” said Joe. “There are different things that autistic kids have a hard time doing and that is what we work on. They don’t really think about it because they are having fun and it’s really helping them come out of their shell quite a bit.”

Joe added when the kids first came in they wouldn’t speak, talk to them or do anything.

“After the first session one kid actually said 'fun' to me and his dad said 'wow, he’s never talked to a stranger before' so that’s pretty cool,” said Joe. “That is the kind of progress we are seeing, they are focusing more and there is enjoyment. I would do whatever I needed to do to bring this program out here. I think it is a huge hit and would volunteer to help out here too.”

They are setting these programs up in different countries and Joe will be going out there to get them started up. He feels that the program is really coming along. The parents and kids are really finding out that is makes a huge difference.

They work with the most minor cases to severe cases and the kids on the severe end of the spectrum hardly get to go out, so it really gives them something to look forward to.

“I’d like to see all of the parents give it a try, don’t keep them away from of it because you’re afraid to try something new,” said Joe. “It’s really good for the parents and the kids to interact with each other. We interact with the parents by telling them what to do and they do all of it with their child.”

Higginbotham said that for one fighter involved in the Fighting for Autism cause has a story all his own that makes a difference for these kids. Alex White fights in the UFC and is one of the few people that fights in the mixed martial arts area.

“He came out for the Universal Fitness grand opening and a huge group of kids came out,” said Higginbotham. “Alex was signing their foreheads with a marker and they all wanted his autograph on their skin. They were all chanting his name, is was just a super cool event and he is a very humble guy in the premier world for the fights. A lot of people who aren’t familiar with the sport wouldn’t expect a super nice guy.”

White goes out all the time to their different global events and makes public appearances and does autograph signings. Higginbotham said that he has a very unique story about his upbringing into the fight business.

“He had an accident when he was four years old that caused him to have a speech impediment and that resonates very strongly with our community as 40 percent of people with autism are not verbal and won’t ever speak,” said Higginbotham. “The speaking thing with Alex is why he is an Ambassador, because people can really relate to him. They all look up to Alex like he is a superhero in a sense and he is willing to play with the kids to make them happy and contribute to the program.”

White said that one of the guys that worked for Fighting for Autism approached him and wanted to know if he wanted to be a part of Fighting for Autism and attend rallies.

“I have been involved with MMA for about five and a half years and ever since I was a young kid I couldn’t talk clearly like all the other kids so I was bullied and picked on for that,” said White. “These kids have a tough time, too, and they ask me questions like how do they get past that. I let them know how I dealt with it and it’s pretty neat to talk to the kids.

"When I autograph pictures for them they look at me and get a big smile on their face. It’s a pretty good feeling and it really means a lot. Having them look up to me is not something that I’m used. I feel that I can help these kids get past being picked on by being someone they can look up too.”

White thinks the therapy is a great idea and the kids are opening up more to it. It teaches them discipline and it helps them to get out of their shell.

“I think it’s a great way for them to socialize with others and to open up to their surrounding instead of keeping to themselves,” said White. “I think it’s a good idea to have therapy sessions in St. Francois County and it would help kids that can’t travel up to St. Charles.”

For more information on Fighting for Autism or to host the kickboxing therapy contact Brian Higginbotham at 636-466-3376 or visit the Fighting for Autism Facebook page and for more information on Changeable Chewables visit changeablechewables.com or look them up on Facebook.

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Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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