Sport For Impact

By Marianna Castaldo

Many studies show how large of an impact physical exercise – from running to water sports, from football to aerobics and martial arts, from horse riding to trampoline training, and so on – has on children with special needs. At Capoeira4Refugees (C4R) where we made our mission to spread the martial art of Capoeira to increase the overall psychosocial wellbeing of young people impacted by conflict, with fun, resilience and happiness, we strongly support this belief. As a matter of fact, we often organize Capoeira workshops in a facility, in Al-Raqqa, that is entirely dedicated to children with special needs, with the positive result to witness these young children finally experience a sense of “belonging” to their communities, as well as improving their well-being. Ultimately, a positive side effect of bringing sport practice to children with needs, involves their families and caregivers; they see their kids learning how to interact with one another, socialize and have fun, while being relieved, for a moment, from the daily, strenuous efforts to take care of them. We at C4R will keep investing our time, resources and efforts to organize and host further capoeira training dedicated to children with special needs, in the near and far future.

There are plenty of studies that demonstrate the positive effects of sport practice on children with special needs. In particular, many research papers focus on children in the autism spectrum, and how the consistent practice of physical activities empowers them in developing their social and communication abilities, and improve their physical wellbeing. A research paper named “The Effect of Physical Activity Interventions on Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder”, which included 29 studies on 1,009 participants in the age bracket of 5 to 15 years across various countries, observed the positive improvement in muscular strength/endurance, locomotor skills, manipulative skills, skill-related fitness and social functioning through the practice of trampoline training, horse riding, running, jogging, and aquatic exercises. As we read in the paper: “researchers, in these studies, have considered why physical activity improves social skills, and the outcome was that, when designed appropriately, physical activity programs can provide a fun, safe setting for interacting with other children with others.”[1] Another research on autism spectrum disorders – which included 26 sessions of MMA intervention on 34 children – observed how mixed martial arts training improves social skills, and lessens problematic behaviours in boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Parents of the 34 children involved reported significantly higher positive social behaviours and significantly lower negative social behaviours between pre- and post-test. The results of this study increase the understanding of the benefits of martial arts training for children with autism; in particular, the study highlights the importance of providing a social component with physical exercise. The dynamic interactions that occurred during the main martial arts activity utilized many important adaptive social skills, including imitation, verbal and non-verbal communication, turn-taking, and perspective-taking.[2]

At Capoeira4Refugees we strongly embrace the belief, which the above studies, and many others not mentioned here, have proved to be a fact: the use of sport practice actually improves the overall wellbeing of children who are dealing with challenging situations in conflict zone; having special needs definitely aggravates their challenging situations and their demanding lives. Therefore, we have decided to dedicate our efforts also to support children with needs. C4R continuously organize and host Capoeira workshops at a “Center for Children with Special Needs” in Al-Raqqa. The intent is to involve these children into the practice of this ancient martial art with the double intent to make them feel part of the community, through fun activities that are typical of the youth age but that often times are precluded to them due to their specific needs, as well as provide them with tools that can improve their social interactions with their peers.  As a result, it has been reported to C4R, that many of these children have benefited from these workshops, and from the practice of Capoeira itself, experiencing a stronger sense of belonging and inclusivity that has made them feel part of their community. Young boy and young girls, who have participated to our Capoeira workshops, have shared their happiness, telling us how they have been finally able to experience a sense of belonging.

Lastly, a positive side effect of supporting and impacting lives of children with special needs through sport, directly affects/involves families, and caregivers. As a matter of fact, these families can witness their sons and daughters finally experience social interaction with their peers and other adults, who are not in their immediate circle. Furthermore, these young boys and young girls have fun, all while improving common behaviours – both physical and social – that are typical of the autism spectrum.

Our desire and our intent, here at C4R, is to continue investing our resources and efforts in hosting Capoeira trainings to support children with special needs.


[1] “The Effect of Physical Activity Interventions on Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder” http://iapem.gr/article_files/files/2-4-2019-Autism_Research.pdf

[2] “Research in Autism Spectrum Disorder” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1750946721000337