The Els for Autism Foundation was established in 2009 by the world class pro-golfer Ernie Els and his wife Liezl several years after discovering that their son Ben was profoundly impacted by autism. The foundation now runs two entities: The Els Learning Center in Florida and Ernie Els Center for Autism in South Africa (EEC), founded in 2011.
Ernie and Liezl Els started EEC with the goal of creating a service that would allow lower-resourced families of children on the spectrum in South Africa with free access to effective treatment. The EEC recognizes that every parent and family member plays an important role in helping their child reach his or her fullest potential and that every child deserves access to best-practice treatment. EEC does this by offering families comprehensive guidance on how to implement best practices in education and autism treatment through Rethink.
The EEC trained facilitators use Rethink to provide customized interventions for each family. They are a small team of 3, but currently serve over 110 families across the country.
“Through working with Rethink we can truly say we are empowering families and communities!”
-Shani Lits, Director of Ernie Els Center for Autism, South Africa
Of the many families EEC serves, the story of one young boy and his family stands out for EEC Director, Shani Lits who told us the story of Siqhamo. Siqhamo was 7 years old when he first began using Rethink through EEC in 2012. Siqhamo’s entire family-brother, sister, mom and dad-would drive over 4 hours to attend training sessions at EEC. At the time Siqhamo was non-verbal and demonstrating a great degree of non-compliance. Using Rethink’s library of lessons, the team at EEC worked closely with the family to develop an individualized program that would support Siqhamo and their needs as a family.
Siqhamo has made amazing progress since he first came to the center in 2012. Using Rethink lesson plans to teach Siqhamo, EEC and Siqhamo’s family have been able to teach him such skills as following instructions and making eye contact, and have even seen him expand his communication skills. “We have come a long way,” said Siqhamo’s mother. “Ernie Els and the Rethink program have empowered us in many ways.”
For Shani, one of the most amazing things about Siqhamo’s story is how the tools, resources, and training made available through EEC and Rethink have empowered his family. “We recently received a home video with mom getting Siqhamo to match foam letters to refrigerator magnets, along with pasta letters! Toward the end of the video we could hear that Siqhamo was ready for his final big reinforcement, as he told his mom: I want popcorn! This family has come through some difficult times and emerged so successfully, and we could not be prouder.”