Playing a game of golf is an oft-enjoyed pastime for all ages, with its relaxing cadence yet skill-building qualities. While these are veritable traits of a recreational golf game, the therapeutic qualities of playing golf can go far beyond simple relaxation or social climbing.
In fact, a new documentary sheds light on how golf can help children with autism.
In the documentary, called Voices From the Outside, the Brooklyn Junior Autistic Golfers Academy (BJAGA) provides golf lessons for children diagnosed with autism. The documentary follows three families and their journeys dealing with autism. What they find is that when the children take that step, they are able to grasp control of the situation and shift their thinking.
“Through the experiences that these autistic children had at the BJAGA, they are able to take their perceptions and inner conversations and reshape them,” said Michael Russ, author and life coach.
There have been several instances in which children with autism have been exposed to the game of golf, and while it may seem like an unusual mix, the effects are undeniable. One of the children in the documentary, Tayjohn, went from being unable to leave the house on his own, to getting a haircut by himself. His grandmother and caretaker attributes this advancement to his golf lessons, which Tayjohn adamantly proclaims is his favorite thing to do.
Tayjohn’s grandmother sees how he enjoys the golf lessons so much, and that is another very important aspect of the program. The children look forward to the lessons, because it is there that they learn how to do something new, how to interact with their golf instructor, and how to practice a skill. Golf is somewhat of a solitary game, which can also be one of the benefits for autistic children, as many of these children can be resistant to team play. The game of golf allows them to play in a way that they are comfortable with.
Dave Kemper, Program Coordinator at the Els for Autism Foundation, says, “With the rules and the structure, it’s always the same. You may have a different lie. You may have a different shot, but the rules are the same and there’s structure.”
Jordan Berglund, Golf Head Professional at Hawktree Golf Club, has participated in events teaching autistic children how to golf, and he explains the parallels between golf and life.
“It teaches you a lot of stuff,” he said. “Patience, integrity with the game. It’s just a lot of fun. You can play it forever! There’s just a lot of things that golf entails that it’s just great for playing it forever, your whole life.”
Another child from the documentary, Max, shows great promise since he began golf lessons at the BJAGA. Not only does he greatly enjoy the game, but also has improved in his verbal and social communication skills.
“He’s a little better, more competitive in his game of golf, and he wants to do his best,” his mother said. “I see Max in the future doing really well. He has support from his friends and family, and I think he’ll be good.”