Friday, July 3, 2009

The Big Easy`s Autism Story

It is three years since our seven-year old son Ben was diagnosed with Autism. We’d suspected for a few years that something was wrong. I mean, there’s a process that every kid goes through. Crawl at nine months, walk at 12 months, and then start talking and so on. With Ben we started thinking: ‘Why is he not crawling? Why is he not walking? Why is he not looking me in the eye?’ Things like that. We soon discovered he was quite severely touched by Autism.

One in 150 children is affected by Autism and that was perhaps the most shocking thing about all of this; the number of people it affects. And you know, it hits the whole family hard. For a long time you are trying to figure out ‘What just happened to my life?’ You feel sorry for yourself and for your kid and for your family. And the tragedy is that even in this day and age, the kid who has Autism is often forgotten about. The feeling is that he’s almost a waste of time, which says a lot more about society than it does the child. It’s heartbreaking.

Ben’s condition was the main driving force behind our decision to relocate our base from Wentworth to West Palm Beach in Florida. The move has benefits for my golf, but more importantly we have been able to secure a more intensive form of therapy for Ben. And he’s doing great. He might act and say things a little differently from other kids, and he obviously has some difficulties, but he understands everything we say and is particularly in tune with our emotions; it’s almost like a sixth sense. And thank God he’s got such a nice nature. He’s a very friendly, very happy, very shy kid and the more loving attention he gets and the smiles that he sees, the better. Samantha, his older sister, is great with him.

Liezl and I are private people, but we are also very much in the public eye and we recognise that this gives us a platform to help raise funds and awareness for the causes of Autism and its possible treatments. It is something that we both feel very passionate about.

We established our Els for Autism Foundation in the Spring of 2009. My first goal was to help fund an Autism Center of Excellence, a model for the world of what should be done for children with Autism. The Center will include an educational program for children age 3-21, an on-site services component for doctors, speech therapists and other specialists, a continuing services program for adults, and for me, most importantly, a research facility where scientists can study what causes Autism and possible treatments for it. That’s just the beginning. In the coming months my foundation will also be funding cutting edge Autism projects at some of the best universities and research labs around the United States. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Years from now people may remember me as a golfer and a major champion. But I’d like also to be remembered as somebody who took the issue of Autism and did something with it. The rest of my life, I’ll be fighting this thing…I hope you’ll join with me.

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