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Special needs children learn karate, confidence in Pointe-Claire class

WATCH ABOVE: Former RCMP officer and black belt karate master André Langevin opened a program to teach special needs students the art of karate. As Global's Felicia Parrillo reports, Langevin started the classes to help students develop social skills, focus, confidence and balance.

A new karate program in Montreal’s Pointe-Claire neighbourhood is making an impact in the lives of special needs children

Retired RCMP officer André Langevin owns and operates Autisme Karaté. The program takes place on weekends in the basement of Valois United Church and offers classes on Montreal’s south shore as well as the West Island.

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Langevin has 30 years of experience in martial arts and has spent the last 10 years teaching karate.

His understanding of special needs children is personal; Langevin’s son, Philippe, was diagnosed with autism when he was young.

When the boy was 11, Langevin took him to a martial arts class.

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Now, Philippe is a black belt, an instructor at his father’s school and a student at McGill University.

“I decided, being a black belt myself and everything, I should start on my own school and teach only special needs,” said Langevin.

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Langevin and the instructors teach special needs students the basics of karate. But through the classes, kids also work on their social skills, focus, confidence, balance and more.

“For one thing, we don’t judge,” said instructor Renée Saintonge, whose two children have autism and also attend the school.

“We let the kid be, we try to give them structure, but we’re not imposing it on them.”

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“They can focus for a certain amount of time then they’re distracted. Some people are so serious about that whereas here, it’s fine,” said Dollard-des-Ormeaux resident Al Hill, whose son attends the school.

“Take a few minutes, relax and come back when you’re able to.”

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Students like 11-year-old Max say they were never accepted at regular martial arts classes, but at Langevin’s school no one is turned away.

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“I go to class with the younger students, and they’re all so nice,” he said. “One of them asks me for hugs — it’s so nice.”

Langevin says he feels an obligation to help others.

He knows first-hand what this sport can do and hopes he can help students and parents experience the benefits of martial arts as well.