Before Ben was first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we had 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 profoundly impacted by ASD.
One in 68 children is affected by ASD 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 ASD 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 recognize 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 create a Center of Excellence, a model for the world of what can be available to children with ASD. Created as an epicenter to connect the international autism communities, the facility enables shared best practices and latest research for improved collaboration. The 26-acre facility will ultimately feature on-site education for 300 students, ages 3-21 years old. Services include early intervention, therapeutic, medical and professional in addition to research, transition to adulthood, and on-site job training. Individualized, distance transdiciplinary therapy is also available to families worldwide.
We're working with some of the best experts in the world to make The Els Center of Excellence a reality.
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.