Bellafides Private School in Beacon Bay is opening its new school for those with autism in January. Given the shortage of special schools in the metro, Amazing Autism is regarded as a great step forward for children with autism.
Bellafides educator Clarissa Masola said the right schooling environment was important for a child’s success and having children with autism enrolled at mainstream schools was a challenge.
“It is difficult to manage a class of 20-plus learners and also those on the spectrum,” Masola said. “Due to large numbers in the classroom, giving ASD (autism spectrum disorder) learners the space they need when they experience a meltdown, sensory overload and so forth is a mammoth task.
“Enforcing tolerance and acceptance is also difficult. Most ASD children are victims of bullying, and to keep a watchful eye on them is difficult in a mainstream environment. Teachers there are already overwhelmed with all they have to deal with.”
Within the Amazing Autism classes, the school will follow a two-fold approach to cater for children who are at different functioning levels. Those children who are low functioning / high support require a slower, regularly reinforced programme that focuses more on teaching basics and skills. These teachers will spend much of the day repeating concepts and skills.
The second approach is for those who are high functioning / low support, but will not comfortably fit into the Bellafides’ mainstream classes. They will follow the curriculum at a slower, more individually focused pace. So these teachers are teaching similarly to what would be a typical class, but at a slower, more accommodating pace.
Masola cautions: “With ASD learners, due to the onset of sensory overload, which can be triggered by virtually anything , teachers always have to be ready at any moment for meltdowns. This can derail a planned lesson. So to believe a day follows a predictable pattern would be laughable by any teacher with even just one ASD learner in their class.
“One needs to be ready to change and adapt at any given moment.”
Masola said more teachers needed to be trained to understand both what ASD was and how to work, develop and assist ASD learners to reach their full potential.
“These learners are more than capable of achieving to their full potential in the same way as any neurotypical child can achieve to theirs, if given the right opportunity and taught in an environment that is emphatic and compassionate and patient,” she said.
Khanyisile School for the Blind teacher Noluthando Manqunyana said children with disabilities required more support from the education system and that integrating more technology into schools could enable those with disabilities to learn at the same pace as their mainstream peers.