Raleigh 6-year-old with autism credits martial arts for giving him courage, confidence

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Raleigh 6-year-old is using what some may see as an obstacle as a springboard to push him forward.

He's now preparing to become one of the youngest students in the United States to earn his first dan black belt in a version of martial arts called Hapkido.

"The best way to describe Harvey is a ball of energy, from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep," said his dad, Kris Alvarenga. "He is this amazing, encouraging, inspiring ball of energy. The biggest brain and the biggest heart that you can imagine all wrapped in one."

"Where I get my courage from is mostly my Hapkido and my confidence," Harvey Alvarenga said.

Harvey started Hapkido when he was two years old, and it has turned into a way for him to hone his hyperactivity and hyperfocus that comes with his diagnosis of autism and ADHD.

"We see how he struggles, but then when he gets into that frame of mind of doing Hapkido it's a completely different person that's more focused and can maintain his hyperactivity and his hyperfocus completely," Kris said. "It's been very rewarding, very inspiring. We've seen it more than anything become a part of him in so many ways."

"It's hard to believe at one time we didn't hear him speak," said his mother, Joanna Alvarenga. "He wouldn't say his name he would just kind of like little babies would do, point and grunt to things. There were a lot of tears a lot of time spent wondering, will my son speak, will he be able to interact with other kids, will he have friends? How will I know what he needs. What will his future bring. To see how far he's come has just been an amazing turnaround."

Harvey and his parents focus on showing his abilities and not the disability. He's been homeschooled since the age of three and is now six years old in fifth grade. His IQ range qualified him to become a member of Mensa.

"He has this amazing ability to read something and retain it," his mother said. "I don't know if it's photographic memory or what but he can read a book and he'll tell you where the word is, what page it is, what line it is, and he can tell you what outfit he wore when he was two years old, what color it was, how it felt to him. What the smell in the air was that day. That focus has led to great success in his home schooling, his Hapkido and his martial arts."

"I think he is proof that anything, if you work hard enough can happen," Harvey's dad said. "I know everybody's story is different. I am very sympathetic to all the stories. Maybe not everyone can do Hapkido, maybe not everyone can move up in the grades. One thing I've learned is that every child we come across who has special needs has their own unique ability. If we can just find a way as a community to bring that out of them rather than focusing on that, on the negativity, this will just be a better world I think."

Like his dad, Harvey wants to show people like him that they too can be successful.

"I just want them to believe in their selves," Harvey said. "I want them to have the courage and strength to do it. I want them to have the courage like me to be like me, and if there's obstacles in front of them, they can fight their way out of them, but they never use it, only when they need to."

Harvey's next obstacle arrives November 14. That's when he'll take his dan black belt test at MVP Sports Factory in Wake Forest. In the long term, he's hoping to become a firefighter and teach kids Hapkido.
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