How Martial Arts Transformed a Nonverbal Autistic Toddler into a Thriving 9-Year-Old Sensation

Kung Fu StudentWhen he was a happy but nonverbal toddler, our oldest son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Doctors told us they had no idea if or when he’d become verbal or if he’d ever be social enough to have meaningful relationships. The outlook for his future was unknown and grim. Last year, at the age of 8, he performed a kung fu routine onstage in front of a crowd of 300 people, proving any obstacle can be overcome. This year, he will take the stage again Feb. 27 and dazzle the crowd with a martial arts routine consisting of fan-fighting and staff-fighting techniques with his Sifu (instructor), Robert Roy.

Video of 2014 Practice Session: http://youtu.be/XtnRPP66tVE

We had never thought about getting Steele involved in martial arts until Sam Hicks, the principal at Steele’s school, Lakeway Elementary, told us how much he’d seen other children in Steele’ situation thrive from martial arts. It sounded like a good idea to us, so we did our research and found Robert Roy. During Steele’s very first kung fu lesson, we knew we had found something special.

Kung Fu cropped“Martial arts helped Steele develop both sides of his brain because techniques require students to alternate between left brain and right brain skills, which many autistic children struggle with,” explains Sifu, a twice Hall of Fame inductee as kung fu master who trained in China at the Shaolin Temple. “I worked with Steele weekly and after only a few lessons, I saw dramatic improvements. His physical abilities were improving, his ability to focus was getting stronger and his level of confidence in himself was soaring.”

During the course of his kung fu lessons, we saw Steele transform into a focused, confident and skilled martial-arts student who specialized in staff fighting. In February 2013, he decided to share his martial arts achievements with his community by performing in the annual talent show at his school. The first step was making the audition. The staff at Lakeway Elementary School was extremely supportive and let Steele audition with Sifu. Four more weeks of practice flew by as the talent show quickly approached.

On Feb. 26, 2013, the Lakeway Elementary School gymnasium was packed with more than 300 parents, family members, teachers and friends, all eager for the talent show. I was a nervous wreck! He had never done anything like this in his life and we didn’t know how he’d react to such a huge crowd. When it was time for him to perform, he grabbed the microphone (which was unexpected and unscripted!!!) and asked the crowd, “Are you ready to see it?” The crowd clapped and cheered as Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” played and Steele and Sifu performed an exciting martial arts combat routine.

I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. I cried from the moment he took the stage, because I was so overwhelmed with joy. Nobody in that crowd understood how every single thing he did was so magical. It was surreal. He didn’t get nervous, he spoke on a microphone from his heart in front of hundreds of people, and his routine was awesome. I still meet people who remember that routine vividly. It’s just amazing. (And they usually say, “Hey, aren’t you that mom who was crying at the talent show?” Yep, that’s me!)

Video of Performance Last Year: http://youtu.be/IIQGf29K5o4

kung fu 2013This year, he’ll be performing again with Sifu and he will be incorporating fan-fighting into the routine. We’re so very proud of him and can’t wait to see him do it again!

Meet Robert Roy (our Sifu!)
Robert Roy, who was trained in China at the Shaolin Temple, has been actively leading the martial arts community in Austin. As owner of Martial Arts Academy, he was active in Crime Stoppers programs, worked with the Austin Police Department’s SWAT Unit, the Department of Public Safety officers and the Parks and Recreation Department in Brazoria County. He is a two-time Hall of Fame inductee as kung fu Master and Living Legend of the Year. He has performed in countless shows and movies featuring martial arts.

He is currently working on a Bully Prevention Certification program designed to supplement anti-bullying campaigns nationwide. He and his wife are also developing an e-book video instructional series for parents and children called “ROOTAGE: Plant the Knowledge.” It will illustrate the hidden techniques and provide a clearer understanding of how ancient martial arts benefits child development.

(Sifu currently teaches throughout the state, but he holds private lessons at World of Tennis in Lakeway.)

Martial Arts Combat Routine: Prepping for Talent Show (VIDEO)

staff fightingI would consider myself an athletic person. I played sports as a child and I’ve run marathons as an adult. But when I watch my nine-year-old son with his Sifu, practicing his Kung Fu techniques, I’m not sure I could do it. They move fast. None of it is fake. If my son doesn’t place his hands in the correct position, his fingers get hit with the staff. And this video isn’t even as fast as they can go. They can move much faster!

I’m so proud to share this video with everyone for many reasons. First of all, look at that technique and speed! Secondly, my son is autistic. When he was diagnosed almost six years ago, he had no core body strength and he was non-verbal. Look. At. Him. Now. Thirdly, they will perform this exciting Kung Fu combat routine in front of nearly 300 people at a local talent show next week. Fourth, my son doesn’t get nervous at all! In fact, he spontaneously grabbed the mic last year to get the crowd involved.

Hoping this video makes you smile and gives you the same sense of inspiration it gives me. (Thanks to our marvelous Sifu, Rob Roy!)

Five Years Beyond Autism Diagnosis: High Hopes & Happiness

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, thanks to a very intense full-time job. I love it, but it certainly takes up most of my time. Anyway, for those of you that have followed MommyQ, you know I have an autistic son. He was diagnosed at the age of three and now he’s eight years old! Wow! Over the last five years, I’ve talked to so many parents about autism. The one piece of advice I give over and over again is, “Take it one day at a time.”  There’s no need to worry needlessly into the future, because it does nothing for you. Make each day count and be thankful for every milestone. It may sound too simple, but when you’re trying to live in the moment, simple is good.

If you had asked me where my son would be now as far as school, sports, etc, my outlook was originally bleak. Not because I’m a pessimistic person, but because autism is such a mysterious reality. The good news is he’s doing great. (You can see his smiling face in the photo above – he’s in the light blue shirt, posing with our high school football team.) Thanks to a solid support system of friends, family and community, he is thriving.  He learns in a regular classroom with one-on-one help as needed. He reads, writes, does math and enjoys science. He’s faster on a computer or iPhone/iPad than I am. He can play tennis and soccer and swims like a fish. A few months ago, he started Kung Fu and today his skills are impressive, not to mention he uses a staff. It’s like having my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle! He’s learning a routine for his school’s Talent Show, so I’m very excited for him.

I remember the days when he hardly spoke, couldn’t complete directions, didn’t take interest in the world around him and had minimal physical strength. He existed in his own world and we desperately fought to bring him out of it. Today, he’s a normal kid who loves chocolate cake, hates cauliflower, fights with his little brother and blushes when a female classmate gives him a hug. His perspective of the world will always be different, but different isn’t bad. I’ve learned that a big dose of hope brings happiness. Keep your chin up.

Walk Now for Autism Speaks Austin: Every Step Counts!

This year, the Greater Austin Walk Now for Autism Speaks attracted over 3,356 walkers and raised over $139,000 for autism.  My family joined the fun and together with Michele Utt from MK Events, MommyQ’s team raised over $3,000.

It was surreal to see all of the families like ours unite for such an important organization. Autism Speaks did a wonderful job organizing the event and the sponsors did a great job making the day extra-special. My boys loved the Home Depot workshop where they got to swing hammers to create wooden keepsakes crafts like toolboxes, boats and cars.  My little guy managed to sweet talk a lady working the Home Depot area into giving him the demo Joey Logano car with the pristine paint job. Go figure, right?

I’m already looking forward to next year and brainstorming themes for our big pre-event cocktail party. Drop me a line if you have ideas. A special thanks to Michael Gardner Photography at www.Homeandgardners.com for sharing his wonderful photos with me. His photos are watermarked. The rest are mine. Not as good, but they do have heart!

MommyQ & MK Events Present The Bachelorette Finale Watch Party to Benefit Autism Speaks: A Night of Romance, Roses & Reality TV with Heart

When the fabulous Michele Utt of MK Events asked me to partner with her to throw The Bachelorette Watch Party, I was intrigued. When she mentioned this amazing party would also serve as a fundraiser, I was impressed. When we decided it would benefit Autism Speaks, I was ecstatic. My happy heart (in combination with my inner party diva) is thrilled to announce The Bachelorette Season Finale Watch Party, August 1st from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.  Proceeds will benefit Walk Now for Autism Speaks in Austin. Tickets to the event can be purchased online for $40.

This event is shaping up to be one of the best Girls Night Out parties ever held in the great state of Texas.  The swag bags and silent auctions items alone are making us swoon. Plus, we’re adding new ones even as I type. Take a look at ALL of the AMAZING people & companies who are involved. They deserve a mega-shout out! Woo Hoo.

Why Autism Speaks? My readers know autism is close to my heart, because my oldest son was diagnosed when he was three. The biggest thing we need as parents and as a society is access to critical data about autism and more resources for families struggling to understand it. All of these autistic youngsters will be adults one day. Who will support them? How will they lend their special vision, talents and skills to society?  They need to thrive! Lastly, let’s figure out what causes it. There are too many unsubstantiated theories. We need answers!

Okay, stepping off of my platform now…

-  A special thank you goes out to our sponsors: Baldwin Beauty School (thank you, Wendi!), Premier Data Com and Warren Kull with www.yourlaketravishome.com, for supporting our event and compassion towards the cause.

- Enjoy complimentary appetizers by Mandola’s, wine by Flat Creek Winery, cocktails courtesy of Treaty Oak Rum and Graham’s Texas Tea and dessert a la Michelle’s Patisserie.  Bouquets of red roses fill the room courtesy of Flowers By Nancy.

- Chef Paul Peterson, (www.chefpaulpetersen.com) who was featured on TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters and is currently the executive chef at Austin’s favorite Tex-Mex Restaurant, Vivo. will be firing up the kitchen and serving some tasty eats!

Swag Bags valued at over $700 and are yours to take home!
Swag Bags Sponsored By:
~Bettysport
~Oak Haven Massage
~BASE Personal Training
~Kendra Scott Jewelry
~Shandi Nichelle Co.
~Vitamin Water
~Don Rogers Photography
~Dermalogica
~Dream Water
~360 Tans
~Creative People Marketing & Design
~Hill Country Galleria
~Bee Waxed

Silent Auction Items Include:
~Zoom Whitening by Lakeway Smiles
~$300 in Kendra Scott Jewelry
~Gift Certificate to Spa at the Lake
~Spray Tan by 360 Tans
~Gift Basket by Blue Avocado


Guests can bring swimsuits to watch Ashley make her final decision, because this estate has a fabulous pool with a panoramic Hill Country view. (See, we think of everything.)  The address will be given after you have purchased your ticket. Tickets may be purchased for only $40 at www.mkeventsaustin.com or for $50 at the door.  There are a limited number of tickets and we anticipate them selling out quickly.