Therapy with a Kick: Down Syndrome Thrives through Karate

It’s easy for 12-year-old Corina to lose herself in the crime-fighting, karate-kicking world of Disney characters she loves.

In their fictional worlds, Kim Possible and Wendy Wu are young, talented and strong. By contrast, Cori lives with Down syndrome and sometimes struggles with day-to-day activities.

According to Cori’s mom June, Cori was inspired by the can-do attitude of Kim Possible, the title character in the 2002 Disney film Kim Possible. The 2006 Disney movie Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior piqued Cori’s interest in karate, says June. In the series, Wendy Wu trains in martial arts to defeat her ancestor’s enemy.

June jumped at the chance for Cori to participate in La Rabida’s therapy program that improves children’s balance and strength through karate movements: “She loves it; she talks about it all the time,” said June just before the recent Karate Finale Show at the hospital. Parents, caregivers, hospital staff and volunteers attended the program showcasing the young patients’ new and improved skills.

Cori and seven other children receiving physical and occupational therapy met in the rehabilitation gym once a week and practiced the ancient martial arts lunges, side kicks and punches to achieve balance, coordination and, perhaps most importantly, confidence.
Dressed in belted white robes and pants, the kids grunted, kicked and punched their way through the routine led by Patricia Padgurskis, a physical therapist, and Tara Yates, an occupational therapist.

Both believe karate is a good alternative to traditional therapy, using balls and floor exercises and tons of repetition to help the children build strength and coordination.

“A lot of these kids have been in physical and occupational therapy since birth, and can get burned out. Even getting in and out of the white cloth uniforms is a form of occupational therapy,” said Patricia. “Plus, this is so much fun.’’

June said getting in the uniform is one of Cori‘s favorite parts. “Wearing the uniform makes her feel important. It helps her self-esteem.” 

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