Recently, I saw a TV commercial that really caught my attention.
It featured pro golfer Ernie Els talking about research on autism. He has a 7-year-old son with autism, a mental disorder marked by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships. Ernie has formed a foundation to promote research on the condition.
“We have to believe it’s possible to find a cure,” he says in the public service announcement.
The Els For Autism Foundation, formed in 2009, is trying to raise $30 million to build a “central command center” for autism research.
I wish the effort great success. I’ve known several people who had children with autism. Perhaps you have too. Autism is a troubling and baffling disorder that, fortunately, is starting to receive the attention it deserves.
About 1 in 110 children will be born with autism, according to AutismSpeaks.org. The rate of diagnosis has increased 600 percent in the past two decades, it says.
“More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes or pediatric AIDS combined,” the site says.
Els, one of the world’s top golfers, learned that his son Ben had autism after he was slow to crawl, walk and talk.
“It was a big shock,” Ernie says. “It was kind of hard the first couple of years. It took us quite a while to have the courage to talk about it.”
His TV commercial features several other parents of autistic kids. Their comments underscore the difficulty children and parents face in living with the disorder.
“We had nobody to turn to,” one woman says. “We didn’t know what to do next.”
Fortunately, resources for autism are increasing.
Besides AutismSpeaks, other helpful websites include:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The latter says that autism actually covers a range of development disabilities. It uses the term “Autism Spectrum Disorders” or ASDs.
“ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe,” the CDCP site says. “There is currently no cure for ASDs.”
It says symptoms begin before age 3 and can include avoiding eye contact, repeating words and phrases, and rapidly moving the arms and body.
Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with my 12-year-old son, Connor. He has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and attends a school for kids with learning differences, including autism.
I regularly see parents whose children are much more challenging than my own due to autism. I think loving parents can step up to almost any issue their children face. But parents of autistic children need strong support from other parents, family members and school officials.
Families worldwide would benefit from the autism research facility that Ernie Els envisions.
“The center will have on-site education for ages 3-21, professional and medical services, research and transition to adulthood,” he says. “We’re working with some of the best experts in the world to make the center a reality.”
Let’s hope he succeeds.
Autism is an alarmingly common disorder that can drastically affect the lives of the sufferer and family members. We need more education and research to find treatments and perhaps even a cure. Ernie Els should be commended for using his celebrity status to launch a vitally important fundraising effort. I hope people will support him and others working to combat autism.