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From South Africa to South Florida: A Family’s Journey with Els for Autism

Last summer, Dhivaan interned with our Development Team. In his first few hours with the team, he attended the weekly Development Meetly. He sat and listened to the team brainstorm ideas for renaming the programs and services newsletter. He spoke up and said, matter-of-factly, “Why don’t you just call it ‘The AWEtism Report?’” The team looked at him, baffled, and exclaimed, “Why didn’t we think of that?!”

Although Dhivaan’s time as an intern was short, his family’s deep connection with Els for Autism dates back to 2010 when they lived in South Africa. “When we first learned about Els for Autism, it provided a golden opportunity for my brother to receive the proper education he needed.” This decision led to a challenging transition for Dhivaan as it meant leaving behind close friends. “But eventually I realized the importance of why we moved, and I accepted Florida as my home.”

Both Dhivaan and his brother, Ryan (Named Changed to Protect Identity), have autism. However, since autism is a spectrum, the brothers naturally are impacted differently. Dhivaan attended G-Star School of the Arts, going on to receive a bachelor’s degree in communication from Florida Atlantic University this past December. The degree was conferred cum laude. Ryan is non-verbal and instead attended The Learning Academy (TLA) housed in the Shanken Education Wing on The Els Center of Excellence® campus. “It can be hard to understand exactly what he wants, and it can get frustrating at times. Yet, Ryan is a very gentle and cool guy, which is why we often refer to him as ‘The Legend.’”

Ryan graduated from TLA in 2022 and now participates in the Adult Day Training (ADT) program that is housed inside the Stoops Family Adult Services Building. “The ADT program seems to be doing wonders for my brother. He is becoming more independent and is generally happier.”

In addition, with the opening of the Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els inside the Stoops Family Adult Services Building, Dhivaan’s mom, Vasi, who is a very talented baker and chef joined the staff sharing her gluten-free and other culinary creations with patrons. “Nothing gives my mum more pleasure than sharing a lovingly prepared meal with friends and family. I am so glad she is sharing her skills at the cafe. Her cooking is so great, it might even make Gordon Ramsey take notes.”

Certainly, Dhivaan gained valuable insights that will contribute to his career path; however, his internship provided more than just professional growth. “Before becoming an intern at Els for Autism, I never fully appreciated how much care and hard work is put into the well-being and education of individuals with autism. The people at Els for Autism are all very caring and put in a lot of effort to make sure individuals with autism are educated and become fully functional citizens while also spreading awareness and acceptance of autism across the world.”

At the end of his internship, Communication Specialist and Advisory Board Chair Merrick Egber invited Dhivaan to join the Advisory Board. As a board member, he continues to provide insight and guidance to our team to help more families, like his own, reach limitless possibilities.