The Ernie Els #GameOn Autism Golf Programme continues to do fine work in spreading autism awareness in local communities, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
The Els for Autism golf day series – which saw the 2020 campaign kick off with a splendid day at Stellenbosch Golf Club in early December – is only one part of the work done by the South African section of the foundation.
The Ernie Els Centre for Autism believes every child with autism can learn and they deserve access to effective education. Key to this is recognising that every parent and family member plays an important role in helping these children reach their fullest potential. To help with this, the centre offers families comprehensive guidance on best practices in education and autism intervention to teach their child.
The primary focus remains parent empowerment, but not at the expense of recreational opportunities for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
This is where the South African community benefits from the platform laid by its US counterparts. One area
that has made great strides is teaching professionals in the field of sports and recreation how to reach people with autism. The work done over the years has seen a turn in the culture of sports and recreation where people with autism are beginning to feel welcomed and included in activities, going to public places and even taking lessons or
attending group classes with local sports professionals.
The centre rightly believes sport can be an effective supplemental therapy for individuals on the autism spectrum.
The #GameOn clinics were launched seven years ago in the US after partnering with The First Tee and PGA Reach.
Infused with evidence-based practices for teaching golf to people with ASD, the programme is designed to build self-esteem and confidence in a fun, welcoming and supportive environment; encouraging participants to learn golf skills while practising autism learning concepts including communication, emotional regulation, motor and social skills.
The clinic is designed for people with autism who are newcomers to the game. Nevertheless, all activities, drills and games can be adapted to accommodate the more advanced players and those students who may need more help.
The clinic structure is based on a five-station rotation which includes a warm-up, putting, chipping, pitching and full-swing stations, which all have a variety of organised activities and adaptations. Each session focuses on the different stations.
Furthermore, the instructor assesses each participant and works closely with learners to put together a strategic and personalised #GameOn programme.
Fifteen children from the Tamarisk Special School for Autism in Johannesburg participated in a 12-session programme which ran from June to December 2019 at Randpark Golf Club. PGA professional Darren Witter provided a watchful eye as the participants learned and practised foundational motor skills through games and golf activities.
Laughs, smiles and high-fives were the hallmark of this season as the children enjoyed time outside and playing golf – and in the process developed their social and communication skills.