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Sinclair Cares | Using golf to advance autism research

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.

Maxine Bentzel looks at "Els for Autism" in Florida where research centers focus on physical activity.

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

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

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

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," Patrick's father said.

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," Patrick's father said. "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 is with the Els for Autism Foundation in Jupiter, Florida.

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

While the center offers education, therapy and specialty services; they also conduct 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 said.

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," Sotelo said. "So, social skills, communication, and emotional regulation."

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 said. " They are producing language, and they're reducing the amount of stereotypies 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 he world," Sotelo said.

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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