Centre goes extra mile for autistic kids

APRIL is Autism Awareness Month and any support or donations to Autism South Africa (ASA) will be greatly appreciated and aid the organisation to celebrate and champion the diversity and creativity of people with ASD.

Blossoming from a tight-knit parent support group, Autism Sinethemba is a flourishing Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre that caters to and creates awareness for autistic children.

EDUTAINMENT IN MOTION: The six-to-seven-year-old class at Autism Sinethemba have fun playing with colourful dough at the end of the school term Picture: MADELEINE CHAPUT

The school opened in 2008 with six pupils and three staff members and has now grown to accommodate 30 children with three classrooms and a dedicated team of teachers, assistants and a board of directors.

“We needed a place for our kids to learn and grow successfully,” ASA regional development officer and school director Antoinette Bruce-Alexander said.

“The only school available at that time, was McLelland, which could only accommodate six children.”

The running of the school depends on fundraising and school fees and caters to children aged between two and seven with varying levels of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

ASD is a complex, lifelong disorder that manifests in various ways in different people. The school provides the necessary structure, stimulation and teaching that allows children with varying levels of autism to learn successfully.

Autistic kids are very visual. Their first language isn’t English or Xhosa or Afrikaans, it’s a visual language,” Bruce-Alexander said.

“At the same time, most autistic children are very, very perceptive. So much so that they cannot tune out distracting sounds, new smells or bright, busy and colourful posters. All these things are distracting and disturb their learning experience.

“ It sounds silly, but their environment needs to be bland and simple, but very visual.”

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ASD affects one in every 68 children internationally and is more prominent in boys. While ASD is a common disorder, there are few schools and teachers in East London that cater to the needs of autistic children.

“Our school mainly feeds into Parklands and Collage Street and the waiting lists for these schools are astronomical,” Bruce-Alexander said.

As a representative of ASA, Bruce-Alexander holds free workshops for various organisations, schools and parents groups in an effort to teach people how to interact with and aid the learning process for Autistic kids.

The workshops are done for a donation that goes to ASA. All those attending receive handouts to aid their understanding of autism and the structure needed for a successful learning environment for autistic children.

“As a parent of an autistic child, people come up to you all the time asking why your child is misbehaving, acting out or not sociable. It’s not bad parenting or negligence,” Bruce-Alexander said.

“Autism affects the way kids interact and the way they react to certain sounds, sights, textures and tastes,” she said.

Bruce-Alexander also offers free counselling, support and home-screening tests for autistic children and their parents.

Her Whatsapp group allows parents to ask questions, get helpful answers and interact with others going through similar experiences.

“The home-screening tests are a way of indicating to parents that they need to see a doctor and what to look out for, but it is in no way a diagnosis,” Bruce-Alexander said.

Bruce-Alexander and her team plan to expand Autism Sinethemba to cater to more kids as they also have a fairly long waiting list.

“I am in no way a therapist or doctor, but having an autistic child of my own, I have made it my mission to understand and know as much as I can about autism and create awareness around the disorder.”

For anyone interested in getting involved or for any questions or queries, please feel free to contact Bruce-Alexander on 072-678-2452 or at easterncape@autismsouthafrica.org or visit www.aut2know.co.za

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