NEW PORT RICHEY
He lags slightly behind as he studies the moves of the kids around him.
He can't hear as well as the rest of the children in his Tang Soo Do karate class.
But what he lacks in ability, Nathan Crawford makes up for with enthusiasm.
With Down's syndrome, the 12-year-old struggles to remember the techniques he is being taught, but with his father by his side, Nathan is able to grow within the discipline of Tang Soo Do.
"Normally, kids with his condition can't hold onto things when it comes to memory," Nathan's father, Don Crawford, said. "It's taught him things like focus, discipline and respect. It's taught me to be more patient with him as well."
The father and son duo began going to the Tang Soo Do classes at Phillips Karate Academy in New Port Richey about a year ago, after Nathan watched a karate film and began mimicking the moves in their living room. Crawford participates in the Tang Soo Do class with Nathan to help him practice the moves, and feels that it has been a good bonding experience.
"It's something that we both enjoy," Don said. "When he comes home from school, he is excited about going to karate and it's something that I like doing with him."
Finding the right place to take Nathan to was a challenge for Don. After visiting four other karate schools, Crawford found a place with experience in working with special needs kids at Phillips Academy.
"All through my years in the martial arts, I've worked at schools that have had special needs kids," Master Instructor Greg Phillips said. "Nathan has been a joy to work with and he loves it so much that it isn't a challenge to get him to focus on the discipline."
For other kids in the class, Nathan's approach to karate is a benefit.
"I've been in the class with Nathan for a while and I like it because he brings a lot of intensity to whatever he is doing," 10-year-old peer Bridget Brown said.
Another positive aspect of the class for Nathan is the different social atmosphere from that of school.
"In school, he's with other special needs kids, but here he has to be around normal children," Don said. "I think it's been good for him because it's taught him how to be more social. Everyone here has treated him as an equal and the instructors have been patient with him."
After watching his son compete in other sports, Don feels part of the reason karate has been so good for Nathan is the mentality that goes along with it.
"In Little League you have all-star players, where as karate teaches everyone the same," Don said. "Here, he may be treated a little less stringent, but they still require him to do the same thing as everyone else to pass his tests and move up."
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