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West Hall senior Stephen Henderson struggled with Asperger's syndrome but found confidence in karate
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Stephen Henderson works with kids during the afterschool program at the Dojo American Karate Center in Flowery Branch. Henderson, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has learned to use karate to enhance his life socially, emotionally and physically. - photo by Erin O. Smith

At The Dojo American Karate Center in Flowery Branch, Stephen Henderson lines up students in his after-school class.

He leads the elementary schoolers in drills, shouting commands and waiting for a “Yes sir” in response.

Stephen, 18, is a student at West Hall High School who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in elementary school. He struggled socially and academically, his mother Amy Stephen said, until he found a passion for karate in sixth grade.

“I’ve been doing karate six years now,” Stephen said. “And I earned my black belt my sophomore year.”

Today, Stephen teaches in the after-school program at The Dojo, where he first took karate.

The experience brought him full circle, he said.

“I started teaching just a few weeks ago,” he said. “So I’m basically a karate instructor and an assistant for classes, even some evening classes I help out with on occasion.”

He said karate gave him self-discipline and self-confidence.

His favorite part, he said, are drills and sparring, a training method that doesn’t involve landing actual blows.

Stephen also excelled academically, joining the Beta Club. He plans to attend Lanier Technical College in the fall.

“I plan to go there for my first two years, and after that I will go wherever God wants me to go,” he said.

Regardless, he plans to stay involved as much as possible at The Dojo.

In an essay he wrote on earning his black belt, Stephen said, “I used to look up to those kids wearing the black uniform and wearing their black belts. I am proud to say now I am one of those kids that others can look up to and I hope they will follow my example.”

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