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Through my Taekwondo training I've learned how to defend myself, but as a Leadership student, I also received advanced lessons with traditional weapons. I never imagined that using something as simple as a Bo Staff could be so empowering! Although I hope I never have to defend myself against an attacker, I now have the confidence and ability to do so.
–Christina Morales, Brown Belt, 18 years old




From ATA World Volume 19, Number 3 Fall 2012

When Amanda Hochfelder-Santi was 14 years old, she found out she had autism. It was a scary diagnosis for the teen, but it helped put her world in perspective. It explained why she was different than most kids her age. As a high-functioning autistic person, Amanda struggled with understanding social cues, making eye contact, and anxiety. For most of her childhood “Amanda has been misunderstood,” says her mother, Evelyn Santi-Hochfelder. “People either saw her as being rude or not paying attention. But when she learned she was autistic, she started to see why people would react to her in a certain way.” To help people better understand the world through the eyes of an autistic teenager, Amanda, now 15, decided to write a book. It’s called Autistic Me.

To Show and To Help

After watching a movie about famed scientist and autistic woman Temple Gradin, and the movie Joyful Noise (in which Dolly Parton mothers her autistic son), Amanda became inspired. She saw similarities between the autistic characters and herself. So over Christmas break of last year she started writing the book. Editing and finessing it was a family effort. Her mom learned how to self-publish on, and Autistic Me was released there this summer.

“I decided to write about myself to show how I see things and how I feel,” Amanda says. The book covers topics such as eye contact, touch, social cues, self-esteem, and anxiety. It also includes descriptions of exercises Amanda and her mom created to help Amanda function better. For instance: To get accustomed to loud noises, Amanda watches YouTube videos of fireworks displays. Instead of sitting at the same place at the dinner table each night and eating her food in the same order, Amanda shakes up her routine by moving spots—this helps her get accustomed to change. “We do about three to five different exercises a day,” Evelyn says. “She never complains.”

Strength Through ATA

Amanda’s ATA training has strengthened her. She first learned about Songahm Taekwondo at a cousin’s birthday party two years ago. She tried out some classes at Integrity Martial Arts in Miami, Fla. and was hooked.

Amanda’s instructor, Jesse Isaacs, of Integrity Martial Arts in Miami, Fla., says her confidence has greatly improved. “She’s a lot of fun to teach because she works so hard,” he says. “I think being in Taekwondo has helped a lot of her motor skills and her ability to read body language.”

Her mother agrees. “Her self-esteem has improved tremendously,” Evelyn says. “Belonging to an organization and working towards belts and medals has helped her so much.” Amanda loves her instructors and working out with friends. “Taekwondo has helped me get rid of my fears, stop being shy, and look people in the eyes,” Amanda says. She will test for Black Belt in October.

Isaacs says a key to working with kids who have autism is treating them just like everybody else in the class. “Amanda does every exercise just as well, if not better, then the other students in the class,” Isaacs says. “She’s always looking to excel, and it’s a pleasure to be around her.” And after reading Autistic Me, Isaacs better understands Amanda. “There are quite a few ATA licensed schools with students who have ADD, ADHD, and autism,” he says. “I think reading this book will give instructors a better idea of an autistic kid’s view toward the world.” ATA