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 our son Ben we began 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 Autism.
One in 88 children is affected by Autism and that was perhaps the most shocking thing about all of this; the number of people it affects. 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 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, based in Florida, a model for the world of what should be available to children on the autism spectrum. The Center broke ground in the spring of 2014, which was a proud and exciting day for all of us.
Once completed, the Center will provide a uniquely designed on-site educational program for 300 children on the autism spectrum ages 3-21. It will also bring together the critical components of early intervention, transition to adulthood, medical and professional services, and adult services all on one campus. At its heart will be a multi-faceted global outreach program that will make best practices in education and therapy available to children, families and autism experts both in the U.S. and internationally.
The Center will integrate unique architectural components to create a learning environment specifically designed for children on the spectrum, and will include the technology, space and design components that will enable the Center to connect the international autism community with best practices and the latest information and research.
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.