8 Year-Old Junior Golfer with Neurological Disability Aims to Raise Awareness and Fund Research for APD

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Auditory Processing Disorder is a little known condition that may affect 10% of children, the majority of whom are undiagnosed.

Mack Hanisco is a junior tournament golfer living in Middle Tennessee. On the course, he has the determination, poise and maturity of a PGA professional. At home, he morphs into a regular kid who likes video games and inappropriate jokes.

When Mack Hanisco was a toddler in New Hampshire, his parents knew that something wasn't quite right. He wasn't talking, and didn't appear to understand simple questions or directions. He also had some strange behaviors, such as turning objects in his hands repeatedly and throwing excessive temper tantrums. He also had some gastrointestinal problems and showed signs of slowed growth.

After getting tested by a local NH agency, it was determined that Mack probably had a mild form of autism called Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), but this diagnosis never made it to paper because Mack was placed on a special gluten-free diet and his autism symptoms completely vanished. He also had tubes put into his ears, which helped. "He started talking more and more, but he still didn't seem to understand directions or be able to put together a correct sentence," says Mack's mom, Chris. Mack's other health issues also cleared up on the new diet, which made it clear that Mack most likely also had Celiac Disease like his mom.

Later, at the age of 7, Mack was diagnosed with a "significant language disorder", and now at age 8 it's known that Mack has something called Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). APD is a neurological disorder that affects the part of the brain that translates sound into words. It's essentially a form of deafness that takes place in the brain rather than the ears. People that have APD are visual learners. They are often very intelligent, but they just learn differently. They often excel in activities that don't require a lot of verbal communication… which brings us to golf.

Mack learned how to play golf from a video game on his Game Boy when he was 6 1/2. "I bought a Mario Golf game for my husband since he liked to play video golf to unwind. Mack asked what it was and I explained how to play… thinking he wouldn’t be interested and I really didn’t think he’d understand something as complex as golf. I was wrong! Mack became obsessed with the game, and the next thing we know he was outside hitting rocks with a stick all afternoon. That was the beginning of Mack's ongoing love-affair with the game of golf."

A few months and a set of golf clubs later, Mack decided that he wanted to play in tournaments like his hero, Tiger Woods. His parents weren't sure if it was a good idea (they are non-golfers), but after talking to some coaches they decided to let Mack play a tournament in Boston, MA, just after his 7th birthday. He came in 5th place out of 10 boys.

The family later moved to Tennessee to more golf-friendly weather, and Mack continues to play in tournaments each summer. He has placed in the top 5 in almost all of them, and even won a couple. He is also very involved with The First Tee of Nashville and recently made it to "Birdie" level and is working towards making "Eagle." He practices in his back yard every day. "We don't have to tell him to practice. After school he whips off his backpack, grabs his clubs and off he goes. I don't think we could keep him from not practicing. Golf is his life. His goal is to play on the PGA Tour, and I don't doubt that he will someday."

Recently, Mack saw a story about another special junior golfer, Kyle Lograsso, who had retinoblastoma and plays golf despite losing one eye (and almost losing another) to cancer at the age of 2. "When Mack saw Kyle's story in the video, he said, 'I want to do that. I want to show that even though my brain is broken I can still play good golf,' and I thought, 'Why not?' Mack already inspires our little circle of friends and his coaches, but why not broaden it and try to help other kids with APD or similar afflictions? Plus, it gives Mack a lot of satisfaction knowing that he can make a difference. He is a very sweet kid and always thinks of others. Helping others is helping him."

So, Chris decided to design a website for Mack - http://www.mackhanisco.com. Their hope is to increase APD awareness and in the near future help increase funding for research through fundraisers. "Mack gets so excited reading everyone's comments on his web site, and when he sees how many people 'like' his Facebook page. He asks me about it every day, and he walks out of the room a little lighter each time."


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Christine Hanisco

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