The students were very excited as they arrived for class today. Jill peeked out into the waiting room and nervously whispered to me “David almost told Jim about our surprise!” I nodded to her and said that Richard (the staff member who is their caseworker) had everything under control. When I arrived this morning, I was told we would have some college student observers in class today. Rule # 1 in teaching an external class – always expect the unexpected.
Taoist Tai Chi has been a part of the programming activities at the Association for Individual Development Sheltered Workshop since March of 2012. One of the program directors felt that offering tai chi to the special needs adults attending the workshop might be of benefit since they have few social and recreational outlets and it might help client behavior and concentration. Many live in group homes and attended special schooling adapted to their needs until they “aged out” of the education system at age 21.
The participants range in age from mid 20′s to early 60′s and have disabilities ranging from Autism and Asperger Disorder to Downs Syndrome, Moderate Mental Retardation, Brain Injuries and seizure disorders. As a group, they are all very supportive and encouraging of one another, but they sometimes experience behavioral challenges when interacting with a mainstream social group.
Our 15 special needs students are quite enthusiastic. We had to limit the class to 15 students since that is all the room size could accommodate. Teaching style was adjusted to meet their needs but our students have taken to Taoist Tai Chi like a duck takes to water. Many of the students have balance and coordination problems and some have difficulty telling right from left and so we have used landmarks such as pictures and the whiteboard to keep people oriented. Verbal cues have to be very precise, yet easy to understand. Karaoke Donyus generate a lot of enthusiasm and the first jong is used as a “tai chi call to order” to get everyone to pay attention and line up for a set. Special needs students learn from repetition the same as our beginner students, and each week I am greeted with reports from students telling everyone how they practiced at home.
Class format is the same as it is for a regular class—do a set, then the foundation exercises, then review a move or two. During our break, we spend time discussing the Eight Virtues and how that relates to how we should treat others both in the workshop and outside the workshop. Students are taught to serve others before taking a snack for themselves and take turns volunteering to set up chairs and serve refreshments and cleanup. We finish the class by learning a new move or refining what they already have learned. Staff reported they have observed that the tai chi participants have fewer behavior problems and have improved concentration than the other workshop participants. Staff have been so impressed, that one has become a member of the Society and recently completed beginner class!
Which brings us back to today’s class. As the class readied for their break, their “surprise” was to present Jim Ros, who has been set leader for the class since the beginning, with a card that everyone had signed, congratulating him on his accreditation as a Beginner Instructor. Jim led the final set of the morning and at its’ completion, the class cheered and gave high fives to all.