World Autism Day: Embracing inclusion with First Tee – Canada

“Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists; it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.” (George Dei, Canadian Professor)

In Canada, one in 66 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people and the world around them. It can affect body language, social interactions and relationships, and sensory processing. (Autism Ontario)

Creating a welcoming, safe, and empowering environment for children from all backgrounds and abilities is a priority for staff across the country. At the core of First Tee’s mission is inclusion.

First Tee – Canada partners with youth organizations across the country to provide all children with the opportunity to play golf in a welcoming environment.

In British Columbia, First Tee – BC has made an impact in Vancouver’s autism community by working with the Canucks Autism Network (CAN).

“One in 30 children in BC are on the spectrum,” said Jake Winn, Senior Manager of Programs, Canucks Autism Network. “By joining forces with First Tee, we’re giving kids an opportunity to try something new and discover a sport that they may have never tried before. Programs like First Tee broaden the horizons for children on the autism spectrum.”

The Canucks Autism Network provides year-round programming for children, youth, and adults on the autism spectrum across BC. Their programs for children aged three to 12 focus on sports and recreation so they were thrilled to add golf to their portfolio of offerings.

“We love the fact that First Tee lessons are adaptable,” said Winn. “We can change games on the fly depending on the group and alter tasks and challenges per athlete. It’s not a one size fits all. It’s customizable and accessible for each participant to be engaged.”

First Tee – BC Coach Tyler McKay has been leading the programming efforts.

“Tyler knew how to interact with the kids and instilled confidence in the participants and their families,” said First Tee – BC Program Manager, Scott Stefani. “The feedback from parents and Canucks Autism Network staff was overwhelmingly positive. To see our team and the First Tee program itself create a buzz around our sport and make children excited to play golf is so exciting.”

The positive response from parents and participants is a testament to the importance of a dedicated coach; and First Tee – Canada has no shortage of those.

Similarly, on the east coast, First Tee – Atlantic’s coaches are also offering golf to children with exceptionalities.

First Tee – Atlantic partnered with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, thanks to the efforts of Coach Wayne Allen and his daughter Coach Rosie Allen, Golf Canada’s 2023 Lorie Kane Future Leader Award recipient.  

The father-daughter duo has made a significant impact on children in their community of Corner Brook, Newfoundland over the last two years, and have gone above and beyond to create environments where all feel welcome.

In addition to obtaining a First Tee coach certification, coach Wayne completed Ernie Els’ #GameOn Autism Golf Program training, which is infused with evidence-based practices for teaching golf to people with ASD.

The time and effort put into this partnership have not gone unnoticed.

A parent of a participant left positive feedback for Coach Wayne. “Thank you for making a space for these kiddos to come together and belong to something. They are often left out of mainstream sports.”

Coaches like Wayne are proudly paving the way for a more inclusive sport across Canada.

Today, and every day, First Tee – Canada celebrates diversity and believes children of all abilities deserve to feel safe, empowered, and welcome in the sport of golf.