It is estimated that autism touches the lives of more than half a million families in the United Kingdom – and now Ernie Els has revealed that his is one of them.

It is estimated that autism touches the lives of more than half a million families in the United Kingdom – and now Ernie Els has revealed that his is one of them.
The world number three, who made the Wentworth estate to the west of London his main family home so that his children would go to school in England, played in America last week with the words “Autism Speaks” on his bag for the first time.
It followed the decision by Els and his wife Liezl to go public on the fact that their five-year-old son Ben is autistic and that they want to raise awareness.
The couple have known about his condition – a mental disability which affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them – for quite some time, and with early diagnosis improving the chances of a person receiving appropriate help and support they have already spoken to specialists all around the world.
“We’ve been trying to assess what we need to do, what we want to do,” said the South African. “We’re doing a lot for Ben, but there are a lot of kids like him out there and worse than him.
“We’re in a fortunate position where money is not a real problem for our family – we can get Ben the right help. Some people are not in the same position. We’d like to raise money for the poor.
“I feel comfortable talking about it now. I’ve got a bit of a profile where it will grab attention. That’s what this problem needs and with that, hopefully, more people will get involved and we can start getting to what causes it and what can be done to help it.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge. It’s so new to everybody that a lot of people have different ideas. After seeing just about everybody in the world, I decided on this path we’re going to go.
“Like any family will tell you, it’s not easy, and it’s a change of life, a change of priorities – you’ve got to be ready for it. And it’s happening more often. I never knew about it, never thought about it, until it’s in your lap.”
According to the West Sussex-based Disabilities Trust, which has an Autism Awareness website: “The exact cause or causes of autism is/are still not known, but research shows that genetic factors are important.
“It is also evident from research that autism may be associated with a variety of conditions affecting brain development which occur before, during or very soon after birth.”
The “Autism Speaks” charity which Els is now promoting was launched in the United Kingdom in 2004 by autism campaigner and philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley, and their website states: “Four times an hour every working day, a child or adult is diagnosed with autism in the UK.
“Yet autism receives only a fraction of the research funding of much rarer conditions such as childhood leukaemia or cystic fibrosis. Autism Speaks is working to change this. For too long autism has been a hidden disorder. Now it is time to listen – and act.”
The charity’s message is being pushed across the Atlantic too and Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks in New York, commented: “It’s very important having prominent people get out in front of this issue.
“It’s hard to get people to do that. Having Ernie, somebody who is prominent all over the world, to get out here is immensely helpful.
“So little is being done. If they can find cures for cancer, surely they can find a cure for autism.”
Els added: “I’d like to know why it’s happening. It’s gone crazy the last couple of years – it’s an epidemic.”
Having failed to win a major since the 2002 Open at Muirfield, Els has had to answer innumerable questions about the effect Tiger Woods has had on his career.
The word ‘Tigeritis’ was coined by his former sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout, and last month the topic was in the news again when Woods won the Dubai Desert Classic thanks to Els going in the water on the final hole.
It will not go away yet in spite of him winning the Honda Classic in Florida two weeks ago and climbing to world number three. Woods was not playing.
But now it is clear that the 38-year-old has had more important things on his mind.
As indeed has Indian Arjun Atwal, who regained a European Tour card by winning the Malaysian Open on Sunday.
Only two weeks ago Atwal Arjun Atwal learnt that he has been cleared over an alleged high-speed car race that left one driver dead.
The incident took place in Florida in March last year, with witnesses telling the police that Atwal and John Park were racing on a street at around 100mph when Park’s Mercedes hit a tree.
“It was very distracting for me to play golf with the investigation hanging over my head, even though I knew everything was going to be okay,” said Atwal, whose emotion when he beat Peter Hedblom in a play-off was easy to understand.
By Mark Garrod, PA Sport Golf Correspondent