How golf helped this child through autism

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick January 18, 2024 10:35

The son of a member at Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland was diagnosed with autism at a young age. He took his son to the club and, to his surprise, this helped him learn how to socialise and the boy, now, is a keen golfer, writes Daragh Small.

Just after 8am on an early October morning in 2010, Rory McIlroy stepped up to make his Ryder Cup debut, his driver found the rough on the right side of the first fairway in Celtic Manor, the weather was dreadful.

There would be two suspensions in play that weekend and while the action continued deep into Monday, at that stage Padraig Lynch wasn’t thinking about golf.

His first child, Christopher, was born on Friday, and every two years his birthday falls on Ryder Cup weekend.

“I’ll play golf for the rest of my whole life,” Christopher has since told his father.

He was diagnosed with autism when he was just two years old but he has found his sanctuary on golf courses around Ireland.

His father has played golf for much of his life too and he knew there were opportunities for Christopher in that sport.

He spends his weekends between Lahinch and Tralee now, usually on the golf course but he has been on his own journey over the last ten years.

“When he was around one, he said “ma” and “da”, he was hitting milestones but then he stopped making those sounds,” said Lynch.

“His speech wasn’t coming on. We said look, we have missed a couple of milestones there, motor skills were a bit slower.

“He was assessed and was diagnosed with autism then, it was really important to get it done early, to get the development help.”

Through Lynch’s love for golf, straight away he was thinking of Ernie Els, whose son has autism, there he found out about the Els for Autism Foundation.

The anxiety of the initial diagnosis subsided over time, instead it was replaced by hope and optimism, and the boy is today on accelerated programmes for maths, English and languages.

Padraig became a member at Lahinch Golf Club when he was just ten and has played the game there ever since, in more recent years he acquired a trusty caddie, when he brought Christopher along.

“For a while I wasn’t comfortable even bringing him to Lahinch,” he said.

“All he might want to do is play around in the bunker. In my head I would have been like, if the members see him playing around the bunker, they will be giving out and we will be reported because they are top golfers in the world.

“After a while people were like, he had a great time in the bunker. You obviously rake up after him and leave it how you found it, but it was the understanding of the members.”

Golf has helped Christopher get to a place where he is now able to socialise with other young teenagers, his father stated.

In Easter 2022, Christopher joined up with a golf camp and since then he has never looked back.

“David Power is doing a very, very good thing down there in Tralee,” said Padraig.

“I said Dave, he could last two minutes, 20 minutes, I will just hang out in the back here and Dave said no problem. He did the whole four hours, two hours before some chips and two hours after.

“He was like, can we do this again? It was his idea. Can I get a golf club now, can I come golfing with you now? That kind of exposure, he would have associated golf with me and I hit the shots and he might hit one or two. But now it was kids his own age and they all play golf. It’s primarily golf practice for Christopher now.

“The first time, he wouldn’t have been totally comfortable, he might have been holding my hand. Now he has no problem, we left at the weekend and he said “I will give these balls to the other kid”.

Two years ago that wouldn’t have crossed his mind, to engage with someone else and say “hey, what’s your name, I have extra balls, would you like them?”

“That is all spontaneous behaviour that golf has helped along with school, of course, and his special needs assistant.”

And having spotted the signs early, received the diagnosis, read up on it and created new opportunities, Lynch wants other parents to know they too can find hope and help their child thrive through sport.

“Get it checked, if they get diagnosed with autism, read up as much as you can. There are some really good videos on YouTube, I showed one to my parents when he was diagnosed and that helped them understand.

“If you are a member of a club yourself, reach out to your local PGA pro. Have that conversation, ask them if there are any Get Into Golf options for kids.

“It might depend on where your child is on the spectrum but you have loads of options.”


Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick January 18, 2024 10:35
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1 Comment

  1. Director of Agronomy January 21, 10:43

    I love this story. My daughter teaches special education in Washington St. Loves it.

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