New craft project a boost for youngsters with autism

OPERATIONS manager for Autism Sinethemba, Antoinette Bruce-Alexander and her team have started the first project of its kind in East London for autistic youngsters in their final years of high school.

The Autism Newspaper Craft Project was first established by fashion designer, Balungile Sokhulu, with the aim to help young adults with autism to become independent and earn an income of their own.

“We are trying to give them a positive future and create a sustainable and continuous way for them to have an income,” Bruce-Alexander said.

The project was first established by Sokhulu at the Braamfontein Hospital School in Johannesburg that caters for and teaches more than 250 autistic and visually-impaired children.

In July 2015, Bruce- Alexander was introduced to the project at the annual Autism South Africa meeting in Johannesburg. From then, she endeavoured to start the project in East London.

The members meet every Saturday afternoon at Autism Sinethemba at St Pius Pastoral Centre in Cambridge.

The youngsters, with support from their parents, create bags out of recycled newspapers, which are then sold for R180 each.

Only 10% of the profit is used to buy materials and equipment for the project, with 90% given to the youngster who created the sold product.

The regular members consist of four pairs of parents and their children, as well as two volunteers from St Marks Church, Thoko Mbekeka and Allenice Meek.

During the past few weeks, they have welcomed four new children and their parents.

Autism South Africa (ASA) sponsored training and support for Bruce-Alexander and her team to start up the project in East London.

The members received training from Sokhulu and are now qualified to train and support any new members.

“It is a much-needed project, both for the kids and parents.

“We get a chance to bond with our children and at the same time allow them to create something they can be proud of,” said Bruce- Alexander, who is also mother to Daniel, a regular member of the Autism Newspaper Craft project.

Since last month, Bruce- Alexander and her team have been running the project independently and have been producing the bags on a regular basis.

“We’ve been creating all sorts of things, we’ve been using the offcuts to make things like picture frames,” said Gary Robertson, whose son, Adrian, has been a regular member since the project started in East London.

POSITIVE OUTLET: Youngsters, parents and volunteers working together to create beautiful handbags out of recycled newspapers. Hard at work are, from left, Sanjé and Rohan Monsingh. Left back, are Gary Robertson, Lihle Kutu, and volunteer Tokho Mbekeka. In the foreground, from left, are Adrian Robertson and Daniel Bruce-Alexander Picture: MADELEINE CHAPUT

Autistic children are very visual learners so the project and process is designed to be taught visually. There are various stages of creation that take place leading up to the final project.

“None of the kids are forced to do anything they don’t want to do, they are all at different levels.

“Some of them enjoy one stage of the process as opposed to another, so we let them do what they are comfortable with,” Bruce- Alexander said.

The project has also provided a space for these youngsters to interact with one another and Bruce-Alexander and the other parents have noticed positive behavioural and social changes in their children.

“When Rohan [Monsingh] and his dad, Sanjé, first started attending, Rohan barely spoke, he never greeted anyone or made any contact.

“After a few sessions, he has started interacting socially.

“Every week he gets to the door and greets everyone with a big smile on his face,” Bruce-Alexander said.

For more information about the Autism Newspaper Craft project, please contact Bruce-Alexander at or at

UNIQUE CREATIONS: Some of the products made by the youngsters in the Autism Newspaper Craft Project Picture: MADELEINE CHAPUT


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