Boxing has been considered a sport of aggression as long as it's been around.
But Janine Shelton, a special education teacher at Madison Middle School in Oceanside, Calif. has turned this violent sport into a way for her autistic students to improve their physical and mental abilities.
The students, who Shelton describes as "nine severely handicapped students who have seen tremendous improvement through these boxing sessions," range in age from 11 to 14 years old.
They began their boxing lessons in October 2008 and have already come a long way.
"Physically, their balance and coordination have improved. Their hand/eye coordination has improved, as well as their visual tracking skills. Some students have improved their writing skills, and one student who was non-verbal has started saying words for the first time," said Shelton.
The students practice counting and hitting mitts and bags, sometimes working their feet as well as their hands.
Shelton believes what may be more important than their physical improvements are the emotional advancements boxing has seemed to bring to these inspiring kids. Since classes began, she has watched their social skills and confidence flourish.
The parents are very supportive, Shelton says, citing the way boxing training gets these autistic kids out in the community with less stress.
Shelton maintains that boxing is not an inherently violent sport but rather a controlled stress relief. For these kids, training never involves hitting others. The only exception is when their good work is rewarded by a one-on-one session with trainer, Abel, in the ring.
"I don't put limits on people with disabilities," a serious Shelton said, with sweat on her brow and her boxing gloves on. "I want to give them a chance. I know that if everyone tries hard enough, you can do most everything you strive to do."