• Tue, Aug 7 2007

Clicking on the Links: Golf and Autism

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“Far from Par” is the name of a 4-week summer golf program for autistic children in Bergen County, New Jersey. The August 4th Bergen Record notes that the program is the “first of its kind in the nation”:

Fifteen children, ranging in age from 11 to 16, are taking part. In the first three days, they spent an hour learning some of the rules of the game, how to grip a golf club, and how to putt.

While they all will get an opportunity to play with regulation golf clubs and balls as the program progresses, their first experience was with something called “snag golf.” They used solid plastic, large-headed clubs and furry tennis balls, aiming for a yellow Velcro-covered target that looks like an overturned bucket with a flag on top.

Charlie did try mini-golf last summer when we were on vacation at the Jersey Shore; Jim, a former caddy with many a story of afternoons out on the links, helped him to move his club back and through. After seeing Charlie try t-ball and soccer and attempt to shoot a basket into the hoop in the driveway, I would say that sports that involve balls are generally not so easy for Charlie, who still has to make extra efforts to track moving, rolling objects. It does not surprise me that the sports that Charlie excels at are running and swimming, in which there is no ball or bat or club, etc., but only Charlie moving and motoring his body, through space, through the water. (And on Sunday, he did swim the farthest out into the ocean—Jim grabbed his ankle or Charlie would have headed straight out into the Atlantic.)

I do welcome more opportunities for Charlie and autistic kids to do sports and be active. I do have to note some statements that Michael Kuchar, superintendent of the Bergenfield Public Schools and “the driving force behind this program” makes about autism, as these seem to refer to misconceptions about what autism is. Says the superintendent:

“The golf course represents a safe learning environment for children trapped inside a variety of walls for too long……….These kids lack social skills as part of their disability, and the etiquette and social skills of golf are perfect for them.

“It’s almost impossible for these kids to play a sport like football or baseball. But in golf, they’ll have a lifelong athletic activity and learn the skills needed for a productive life.”

Kuchar said this program could “have a national impact on the thousands of programs attempting to unlock the mysteries of the autistic mind.”

References to autistic children as “trapped” behind “walls” recall the “empty fortress” metaphor used by Bruno Bettelheim and, with all apologies to Tiger Woods and Jim’s good friend who is a professional caddy, I need further enlightenment at how playing the back nine might achieve such a result. I’m just not quite sure how learning to golf might “unlock” anything about the “mysteries of the autistic mind”; I for one have yet to figure out the mysteries of golf—of golf and the kingdom…….

Jim (who used to store his clubs in the trunk of the car) has talked about someday taking Charlie out to caddy and I think the combination of physical effort and being outdoors might appeal to Charlie. In my book, he is never “far from par”: Charlie is the surprise contender who, just when no one expects it, scores a double eagle.

Photo courtesy of WebWideJosh via Flickr.

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  • Chuck

    Special Olympics offers many sports. We have done basketball and are starting bowling this year. They are starting golf this year as well. I am also a coach for our local “Challenger” baseball team.

    My son, like yours I believe, love to bicycle, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to convince SO to do this or how competitions would be done. :

  • Eleanor

    Well, putting aside the “unlocking the mysteries” nonsense, I suspect that golf may indeed be a great game for autistic kids. The scoring system is not subjective, it is played in turns, can be played in silence, and does not require much in the way of auditory processing abilities. My son is currently enjoying several computerized versions of the game, and has tried mini-golf a few times.

    Another good sports choice–for my son anyway–has been bowling, which is great exercise. We have found that many bowling alleys are disability-friendly, and they can put bumpers up on the lanes, as well as provide a ramp for little kids and those with disabilities to roll the ball down. My son started with the bumpers and the ramp, and is now bowling quite well (usually over 100 a game, and he’s only 7) and will be in a league this fall.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Bowling is good; a basketball game would be too many things going on for Charlie (think we’ll stick to the hoop in our driveway. There’s a fund-raising “ride for autism” in June here in NJ; Charlie is able to do the shortest adult course but it’s on fairly busy main streets. (There is also a child’s course, but it would be too easy for him.) A bike race: It would have to be dad and son in Charlie’s case, I think, but something to think about……

  • Chuck

    Don’t limit your child’s potential. My son still hasn’t learned the concepts of dribbling, following the ball, defense at all, angled shots at the basket. SO doesn’t care where your child starts from or how long it takes. They do everything they can to get your child in the game. Socialization, sensory issues, gross and fine motor skills, sleeping. We have had positive returns on these issues and more and we still are not fully playing the game. just MHO. You can check your local SO and try anything, if you only go once, SO just wants you to try.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    We checked for SO regarding swimming and they were less than forthcoming—it may have been the day or the moment. Once fall weather starts, we’re looking forward to taking Charlie out on the track!

  • http://aoskoli.blogspot.com/ VAB

    I’m not sure I like the name, “Far from Par.”

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    Bicycling and Challenger League Baseball have worked for Amigo. He is also developing an interest in working out at the YMCA. Since this is an individual activity, it might be the one he carries into adulthood.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Also in the planning stages: Taking Charlie to work out at the YMCA, thanks for the inspiration!

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