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KARATE HELPS CHILD WITHIN TO EMERGE.

Byline: Mariko Thompson Staff Writer

Jenny Sukys needed a social activity for her 10-year-old son Jackson. But it wasn't easy finding a program that both engaged Jackson's interest and was open to children with developmental disabilities.

Jackson has autism, a neurological disorder that has become increasingly common over the last two decades for reasons that are not yet known. After learning that Fred Villari's Studios of Self-Defense in Glendale welcomed children with developmental disabilities, Sukys enrolled her son in karate. Jackson has worked his way up to a blue belt with one green stripe.

``It's teaching him things that will get him through life - self-esteem and all that stuff,'' Sukys says. ``A black belt would be a real accomplishment. I don't know if he can get there, but he wants to.''

Armen Heroian, the studio's chief instructor and regional director, offers semi-private lessons and a group class for children with developmental disabilities over the age of 7. In the classes, the kids start with meditation, then practice new moves and spar.

``We develop a positive image for them and build up the confidence so they can fit into the mainstream,'' Heroian says.

Autism can range from mild to severe and often is marked by impaired language skills, difficulty in social interaction and repetitive behaviors.

Sukys learned about Fred Villari's studio through the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center, serving the Hollywood, Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale areas. The state's 21 nonprofit regional centers provide information on community resources for children with developmental disabilities, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism.

Patricia Herrera, the center's director of family support services, says recreational programs such as karate aren't a replacement for traditional therapy, but they provide a valuable social outlet for these children.

``We see it as a socially inclusive type of activity,'' Herrera says. ``It's very important for children to feel a sense of belonging in the community.''

For more information:

Fred Villari's Studios of Self-Defense, (818) 957-7544

Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center, (213) 383-1300

For a listing of all 21 of the state's regional centers, visit www.dds.cahwnet.gov/rc/RCinfo.cfm

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photo

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Karate master Armen Heroian works with Jackson Sukys, 10, left, and Ian Bates, 9, at Fred Villari's Studios of Self-Defense in Glendale.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 17, 2004
Words:383
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