Many people know Ernie Els as a world-famous professional Hall of Fame golfer; with a swing that is so smooth he’s called “The Big Easy.” He is also a father of two lovely children. Els’ son is a child with autism. Some of us have seen the TV spots for the Els Center of Excellence, but I think that publication and support in education magazines, online sites, and other education media is long overdue. I know that many golfers have their foundations—Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods come quickly to mind, but what Els is doing for battling Autism, in his native South Africa and the world, needs to be shouted louder.
I have to say that, in my teaching career, the most rewarding, as well as the most frustrating teaching I’ve done was when a student with autism was in my classroom. It was a time before helpful software became available. At that time, my room aide became translator and surrogate mother in order to gain any daily progress. I became very aware that progress made on one day could be quickly erased by events of the next. I also learned that students with autism, just like my regular classroom students, have special talents. And just like those regular classroom students—I just had to discover and develop those special talents. My students with autism were singers, actors, and artists. What was great was that when my class discovered those special talents, everyone wanted my students with autism in their presentation groups. That still makes me smile.
I believe the Els Center of Excellence is using a US-based product called Rethink Autism in its current learning programs, but what really intrigued me was its eLearning initiative. The timing is perfect for that—and we all know that autism has no boundaries—it is a global battle. Online is up the right alley for students with autism, where students can be immersed in media, practice social skills, and engage in entertaining educational experiences to develop those talents that may go far beyond the singing and art my students discovered—well before online was a possibility.
Note: I recommend checking VizZle another great new-age product for teachers and parents of students with autism.
Like most foundations, the Els Center of Excellence relies on funds to achieve goals. I could go on forever about why contributing is worthwhile, but here’s a simple and horrible statement that says it all: 1 in 88 children, 1 in 54 boys, and 1 in 252 girls are affected by autism. Chances are you know a child with autism, teach one, or a member of your own family is a child with autism. Those odds need to change, and you don’t have to be a pro golfer to help.
Note: Autism Speaks is another great organization I follow and it’s easy to help and donate there as well.