“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.