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How Waldwick Teen Uses Martial Arts To Help Kids With Special Needs

Ryan Kennedy poses with some of his students at Sensory Taekwon-Do in Waldwick. Photo Credit: Jonathan Kilburn
Ryan Kennedy teaches a taekwondo class in Waldwick. Photo Credit: Jonathan Kilburn
Ryan Kennedy works with a student. Photo Credit: Jonathan Kilburn

WALDWICK, N.J. – Ryan Kennedy of Waldwick was born with a lung problem.

“There was an 80 percent chance I wouldn’t live, but I did,” the now 17-year-old Waldwick High School senior told Daily Voice.

That experience, and others, helped Kennedy develop an enormous sense of empathy. And for the past two years he has taught martial arts to children with special needs.

“I understand the struggles and hardships because my family has lived through them as well,” Kennedy said during an interview at Sensory Taekwon-Do in Waldwick , where he works two days a week.

Kennedy teaches taekwondo to children with a range of special needs, such as those on the autism spectrum.

“It is a humbling experience,” he said.

The students range from non-verbal, to violent to incredibly high-achieving, said Jonathan Kilburn, the studio's director.

Kilburn said the purpose of teaching the students martial arts is two-fold. Sequences and patterns of movement help to create connections in the brain. And “it is a medium to help keep children interested and happy and to have fun.”

Kilburn said Kennedy works exceptionally well with the children.

“I can teach anybody martial arts, I can’t teach anybody how to work with the kids,” he said.

For Kennedy, who said he likes helping others, the job is highly enjoyable.

“It’s never really a bad day at work,” he said.

Sensory Taekwon-Do is located in the Superdome on Hopper Avenue in Waldwick. There is also a location on South Washington Avenue in Bergenfield.

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