“I thought it was really fun,” Spectrum House lead therapist Gina Vecchio said after the hour-long seminar. “It was great for the kids … It helps develop fine and gross motor skills."

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PACE — Brazilian jiu jitsu is a martial art focused on ground fighting with the aim to force an opponent to submit. Monday, a group of Spectrum House Autism Center children learned some of its techniques during a pilot program at Pace Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

Safely falling backward and staying on an opponent’s back were two of the things Spectrum House children practiced at the new school, which opened July 1.

The school’s owner and head coach, Marcelo Alcantar, developed the program to teach children with autism after seeing how his 12-year-old son, Noah, grew in the martial art.

“We’ve seen amazing things with our son, Noah,” Alcantar said. “He was diagnosed at two-and-a-half years old — not very verbal, no eye contact.”

“We knew he had a lot in him,” Noah’s mother, Jasmin Alcantar, said. “No one knows children better than their mom and dad.”

The Alcantars have three children: Noah, 11-year-old Helena, and 7-year-old Riley, and all study jiu jitsu.

Noah competed in the July 22 North American Grappling Association competition in Orange Beach. He won second place in his division, according to the association's website, nagafighter.com.

“It was sad because he said he didn’t win because he has autism,” PGJJ coach Lizbeth Diaz said. “What society sees as a disability, I see as a super power. They just think differently. He’s a genius in math … Every child learns in different ways.”

A 15-year-old girl with Down syndrome came into Pace Gracie Jiu Jitsu and functioned well in the youth class, Diaz said.

As for Monday's session?

“I thought it was really fun,” Spectrum House lead therapist Gina Vecchio said after the hour-long seminar. “It was great for the kids … It helps develop fine and gross motor skills."

There are not a lot of choices for physical activities for children with autism, according to Vecchio. Still, some of the Spectrum House youths play football and are involved in Special Olympics, she said.

“They’re capable. They just need more instruction,” Vecchio said. “We’d love to come back.”

As for Pace Gracie Jiu Jitsu? 

“We’re not the next big mixed martial arts school,” Alcantar said. “We’re about community, family and contribution. That’s why we’re doing this.”