When dad Michael Coombs enrolled his eight-year-old son in a Saturday morning boxing club he couldn’t have known how much it would transform his life.

That’s because Lucas is in the process of being diagnosed with autism and it was the first time he had attempted to box.

But thanks to the expertise of Richie Ellison from TKO Boxing & Learning Centre in Kenton, within four weeks he had moved into the mainstream class and has found a new passion.

Michael, from Cowgate, said:

We stumbled upon the club in Kenton by chance one morning. There was a sign in the window saying they offered free sessions for children with autism and asperger’s syndrome. We were looking for something for Lucas to do so decided to give it a go.

(l-r) Richie Ellison, Michael Coombs and Lucas

Richie, who is also the owner of specialist training provider TKO “Training Knowledge and Opportunities”, started the autism-friendly session after working with adults on the autism spectrum.

He said:

My background is in employment training outside of the typical classroom setting. We use sport to build confidence and instil motivation. I wanted to offer the same skills to children and already we can see how well it’s working. Lucas is just one example.

Michael, who works for Your Homes Newcastle, said:

When Lucas was little he loved to dance but as he got older he lost interest. Left to his own devices he would just want to watch TV but we felt this was worth trying.

Really quickly we saw huge improvements in his confidence but also from the social side. He’s mixing with other people and he seems to really love it.

Maybe it’s the wide open space, or the fact Richie lets them adjust the volume of the music to what suits them – but whatever it is he’s really enjoying it. We’ve seen a big improvement in his social skills in that he’s now prepared to mix with other people and not just want to be on his own or just with us.

I would massively recommend it to other parents. It offers exercise, discipline, social skills and offers an outlet to relieve frustration and pent up emotions. I would definitely recommend the club to other families in our position.

Richie Ellison from TKO Boxing & Learning Centre and Lucas

Co-club owner Richie added:

We don’t put the kids into matches or even let them spar. This is about building confidence and aspirations, about learning new disciplines and it’s also part of us

helping our community see that everyone – regardless of the label they have – has a place and a part to play.

TKO Boxing has also adopted the North East Autism Society as its charity of the year.

Events Fundraiser, Sophie Clarke said:

We are thrilled to have the support of Richie and his team this year. Not only are they doing great work in the community they share our ideals too. Autism is something to be celebrated and championed, and the guys at TKO do just that.