Sport of golf helps advance autism research

Sinclair photo

Believe it or not, the sport of golf is helping to advance autism research.

Professional Golfer Ernie Els opened a world-class research and treatment center after his son was diagnosed with autism.

Much of the research at Els for Autism focuses on physical activity.

Patrick Rooney, diagnosed with autism, says, "It's not like you have a disease or anything."

He wants to remind people he's just like everyone else.

"I know that I'm normal, I just do my best, to think, 'OK you have it, but it's not a big deal.'"

Rooney's father says when it comes to autism a lot has changed over the past two decades.

"Most people now are aware of autism and the condition."

Awareness - something Rooney says is key for his son and others with autism to live a full life.

"It's been unbelievable really, the recognition by our society as a whole," he says. "At the time they had it at 1 in 600 kids that had autism now it's down to 1 in 66."

Dr. Marlene Sotelo says, "Autism is such a broad spectrum and it's very difficult to determine what interventions are going to work with what people."

Dr. Marlene Sotelo is with the Els for Autism Foundation in Jupiter, Florida.

While the center offers education, therapy and specialty services, it also conducts research.

"We're looking at brain function and is there a difference in the brain of someone with autism and not only that one individual but are there individuals with similar brain patterns," Sotelo says.

But they're especially focused on researching the impact physical activity has on those with autism.

"We're not only teaching the actual sport of fitness or golf but we're also infusing teaching strategies to address the specific core deficits in autism. so, social skills, communication, and emotional regulation," Sotelo says.

And their research has already produced positive results.

"What we've noticed is that individuals engaged with physical activity are more responsive to their environment," Sotelo says. "They are producing more language, and they're reducing the amount of stereotypes or repetitive behaviors that they engage in."

And that can help those with autism engage in social relationships outside of work and school in the future.

"I know that it's something that can help people across the world," Sotelo says.

The Els for Autism Foundation also plans to begin researching this year the importance of having parents involved with early intervention.

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