Fourteen-year-old Ranveer Singh Saini never allowed his disability to overpower his abilities. Autistic by birth, Saini, along with his coach and mentor Anitya Chand, overcame all communication challenges and forged a partnership that will go down in history as one of the finest examples of mental strength. As on July 31, Saini, along with his partner - Monica Jajoo, became the first Indian to win a gold medal for Golf at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.
“My Mom sees me as an angel and my father leaves no stone unturned to encourage and motivate me to reach even greater heights,” Saini tells Metrolife. “I request all parents and family members of such people to be as supportive as mine.”
Autism is a complex neurobehavioural disorder that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviours. These were the tough challenges this Gurgaon-based boy posed to Chand when the latter started training him four-and-a-half years ago.
“His parents told me about his special needs, but I thought I would be able to coach him like any other child. Almost six to eight months later, I realised that we had made almost no progress and that whatever I wanted to teach him would not go through to him,” recollects Chand.
“Communication was the biggest challenge. I would try and talk to him and tell him what I wanted him to do and he would look here and there and sometime start walking towards a bird.
So I could not get through to him at all. It was very tough in the beginning to convey to him how I wanted him to grip the club or take his swing. Over the years, as our bond became stronger, the communication has become faster and more effective,” he adds.
Saini candidly admits, “the most challenging part in my life was to be a part of the crowd, to be accepted and embraced by the friends and society. I feel this challenge pushed me to push my limits against the odds.”
It was while accompanying his parents to the golf course that his parents discovered his interest in this sport. So, they decided to nurture this ability. “Golf felt like a great bonding sport for all of us and this is how my encouragement began. I would try to imitate them with swing shots and they realised how much I enjoyed the game,” he says.
According to Chand, who has never trained a child with special needs, patience is the most important thing a coach should possess to teach such children.
“What an average junior golfer learns in two lessons, an autistic child may take 20 lessons to learn. As a coach, you don’t need to worry if five lessons go by and there is no progress. Also, different methods of teaching and communication need to be applied. Visual and kinesthetic (tactiles) feedback can be given but needs to be kept simple at all times,” he elaborates.
After this triumph, Saini wants to start playing golf in normal tournaments. “I want to make my parents even more proud by achieving more and practising more,” he says.