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Boxing classes aid special needs kids

VISTA — It’s Thursday, and the nine children in Janine Shelton’s Madison Middle School class are pounding the punching bags at L.A. Boxing in Carlsbad. For them, the biweekly trips are a much anticipated field trip. In fact, according to Shelton, they are the best kind of therapy.
Shelton’s kids are not your ordinary bunch. They are developmentally disabled: one has Williams syndrome, another has cerebral palsy and many have autism. Most have trouble speaking
and suffer from a severe lack of coordination. Shelton brought them to L.A. Boxing, where she has been a member for years, as a way to not only help them physically, but to improve their intellectual capacity as well.
When they started six months ago, the children practiced simple tasks like pushing a punching bag with both hands. In no time, they were pounding on the bags in 1-1-2-1 rhythm. Instead of lashing out straight ahead, they learned to cross their midline and shuffle foot over foot. Today, they may not be professional boxers, but they are miles away from where they started.
“Each week, they get better and better,” Shelton’s aide Keri Renfro said. “It shocked me how quickly they picked it up. People just assume a lot of times that they can’t do things so when you take them out and let them try it’s amazing what they can actually do.”
“He used to absolutely hate all physical activity,” Charlene Goethel said of Misael, a younger student who was pounding away at the punching bags. “(Now) he’s probably one of the most enthusiastic and one of the more coordinated ones.”
Working out in the boxing gym improves motor skills and visual tracking, exercising both halves of the brain. This has translated into improved ability in a number of ways.
“We had three students who weren’t writing at all who can now copy a sentence from the board,” Shelton said. “We had one student who was nonverbal who actually started saying some words.” She also noted that her students are calmer and more focused in the classroom.
Shelton’s boxing days are only possible thanks to the help of others. The Vista Unified School District, despite recent budget cuts, provides busing to the gym. Richard Montano, owner of L.A. Boxing, offers his gym free of charge to the class.
“We’re all people,” Montano said. “We all want to give back in one way. Then you get presented with a way to do it and you say ‘OK!’”
Now that he sees how well the program is working, Montano said he wants to spread awareness of its success to help people understand there are alternatives to traditional therapy.
“Some of our kids are thought of as unteachable,” Shelton said. “Well maybe we just weren’t using the right stuff. I think the more physical activity that we do we’re seeing more improvements in the kids.”
Eleven-year-old Marcos “Marvelous” Castro put it more simply.
“I like hitting the bags,” he said. “It makes me strong!”