Show#307 Interview with Liezl Els, Co-Founder & Dr. Marlene Sotelo Program Director of Els for Autism Foundation

Els for Autism Foundation

About Liezl Els, Co-Founder:

Liezl Els is a mother and philanthropist.  She is the co-Founder of the Els for Autism Foundation, along with her husband, World of Golf Hall of Famer, Ernie Els. Liezl and Ernie have two children, Samantha (16) and Ben (13).  In 2008 after Ernie started to display an autism ribbon logo on his golf bag, it was announced that their five year-old son, Ben, was profoundly impacted by autism. That same year, the Els family moved from England to Jupiter, Florida, and established the Els for Autism Foundation, with a view to helping individuals with and spectrum disorder (ASD) fulfill their potential to lead positive, productive and rewarding lives. They devoted their efforts to a catalytic philanthropic project – the establishment of The Els Center of Excellence – a world class facility and a leading example of what should be available to people with ASD across the world. In addition to the USA, the Els family has made a significant philanthropic impact in Great Britain, Canada, and South Africa.

About Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Program Director:

Dr. Marlene Sotelo is the Program Director of the Els for Autism Foundation. She is responsible for the operational integration of the programmatic, research and analysis, system and resource development and strategic planning of the Foundation and The Els Center of Excellence as well as the assignment of appropriate staff to ensure organizational goals are met.

Additionally, she is actively involved in cultivating partnerships and collaboration with key stakeholders locally, and she oversees the program at the Els Centre in South Africa. Privately, Dr. Sotelo consults with autism families all around the world

Dr. Sotelo holds a doctorate in Special Education, and certifications in Applied Behavior Analysis and Music Therapy. Marlene has devoted not only her talent but also her life's calling to making the world a better place for those on the autism spectrum. A former Miss University of Miami, her diverse background includes writing and recording a song for the Children’s Miracle Network telethon; singing at stadium games for all the major league sport teams in South Florida, and performing throughout the world with the USO. She has released several singles through Dial Records, including an original composition to raise autism awareness and to raise money for autism research. The song is aptly titled, “Make A Difference.

On of the wonderful programs they are running

JUMP START: Early Intervention Services

"Jump Start to Social Communication and Parent Engagement"

An Overview

Jump Start is an early learning program for kids from 15 – 36 months.  The most current and best evidence is used to make choices about the methods used in Jump Start. The program enrolls children who:

•Are at risk for an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis (ASD)

•Received an ASD diagnosis

•Exhibit other developmental and/or communication delays

•Have no diagnoses and are not at risk of receiving any diagnosis

The goal of the program is to bring together children with different skills; so that they can learn from each other. Receiving focused lessons in communication, social, play and pre-academic skills will help all children when they move on to preschool.

Parent involvement is key to the success of Jump Start. Parents are asked to join for the last hour of their child’s day a few times each month (1-2 times each week). During this time parents will work on specific skills with their child. Parents will receive in the moment coaching and feedback following the session.

Each child’s goals in the program will focus on their areas of strengths and weakness. We want to take advantage of a child’s strengths to reduce areas of weakness. The principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) will be used throughout the program.  Data on each child’s progress will be recorded each day. This information will help us decide when it is time to focus on new skills. Another defining feature of Jump Start, is low student to teacher ratios. With each child receiving 1:1 instruction each day.

Ernie Els #GameON Autism™ Golf

Ernie Els #GameON Autism™ Golf is a new, innovative program, developed by Els for Autism in collaboration with PGA Reach and The First Tee, that gives children and young adults on the spectrum, ages 6-23, access to the game of golf. The program is aimed at developing life skills, encouraging social interaction and promoting healthy living through golf.

#GameON Autism Golf is designed to build self-esteem and confidence in a fun, welcoming and supportive environment; encouraging participants to learn golf skills while practicing specific autism learning concepts.

  • #GameON Autism Golf clinics were first trialed in 2013 in in the U.S. alongside the Els for Autism Golf Challenge series. Clinics have also been held in South Africa and in 2015 #GameON Autism Golf clinics will also be hosted alongside Golf Challenge events in Canada. In addition, GameON clinics are hosted alongside select PGA TOUR tournaments and special events.
  • Through the Golf Challenge alone, these clinics are enjoyed by over 400 beginner to intermediate players annually.
  • #GameON clinics include specialized golf instruction that exposes players to basic golf concepts through structured learning stations. Clinics also feature structured stretching / kinesthetic activity and a healthy refreshment.
  • Participation in physical activities, sports and games improves the quality of life for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in addition to physical health benefits, all involve levels of independence and choice making for the participants. These activities can increase self worth and confidence while providing new opportunities to develop and build friendships, relationships, and deeper ties to the community. 
  • Through the #GameON Autism initiative, Els for Autism is spreading autism awareness within the golf community. Through education and the development of partnerships with autism organizations, PGA Teaching Professionals and golf courses, the program’s wider goal is to make golf clubs welcoming environments for people on the spectrum
  • Els for Autism is currently working with a a number of partners, including The PGA of America and The First Tee, on plans to develop and ultimately roll out the Ernie Els #GameON Autism Golf as a comprehensive program.
  • In Spring 2015, thanks to support from PGA REACH and a grant from New York Collaborate for Autism, Els for Autism launched a nationwide pilot for the Ernie Els #GameON Autism™ Golf Program. About the pilot:
    • Over 100 children in seven cities across the U.S. are taking part in the pilot program that runs from the end of April through 2015. 
    • In each pilot city Els for Autism has selected a host golf facility, golf partner, and autism partner who the Foundation is working with during the pilot program.
    • The comprehensive program  consists of nine group lessons and takes four and a half weeks to complete with golf lessons taking place twice a week.
    • Each session has a specially designed lesson plan that delivers golf instruction paired with specific autism focused learning concepts, including: communication, regulatory, motor and social skills.
    • The pilot program is the first step to developing what began in 2013 as one-day, one-off clinics that ran alongside the Foundation’s annual Golf Challenge fundraising series, into a comprehensive and measurable program that can be, ultimately, rolled-out nationally and internationally.
    • The data and feedback that comes out of this pilot series will be used by the Foundation to fine-tune the program and ensure it is a robust supplemental intervention for individuals on the spectrum that can be replicated in other locations.  
  • Companies and organizations currently supporting the #GameON Autism Golf program include The Honda Classic, Adams Golf, Southwest Airlines, and New York Collaborates for Autism.
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