A 37-year-old mother from Polokwane, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been on a waiting list for five years to enrol her autistic son to a special school.
"My son was diagnosed with autism, he is hyperactive with no speech sometimes he becomes aggressive. He loves playing alone even on the presence of other children and he turned 10 in December. We have been struggling to find a school for him.
Need for a dedicated centre
"Currently, he is being taken care of by a lady who looks after him while I work,” she explains. “There is only one school [New Horizon School] that accommodates children with autism and it has a long waiting list. It’s also not entirely dedicated to the condition. They have only one class that caters for all kinds of disabilities, actually, which is not good either," she adds.
She maintains the department of education should open a centre for children with autism and get skilled workers to assist them because it's no use expecting a teacher who knows nothing about autism to teach children with the condition.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates one in 160 children worldwide has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which it defines as a "range of conditions characterised by some degree of impaired social behaviour, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are both unique to the individual and carried out repetitively".
Home-schooling the only option
Another mother from Polokwane, Kholofelo Chokoe (35) says she will spend a fortune this year home-schooling her five-year-old autistic child because of the unavailability of schools. "He is home-schooled. I enrolled him with The Star Academy, which is in Johannesburg, so we had to make a plan to teach him here at home using the school’s methods and interventions."
“The only government school I know near me is New Horizon. While looking for a school, other mothers with autistic children in my support group informed me that the school has a waiting list that they have been on for a while already. I could not wait because my son needs to go to school, Chokoe says.
"Finding a school in Limpopo is impossible," she adds. "Parents are forced to go for whatever they can find, even if it does not meet their child's specific needs." She says that she has approached private companies for financial assistance because she expects to spend almost R200 000 this year.
"He is home-schooled, and since we're not based in Johannesburg, I pay his two tutors directly. I had to find candidates who were qualified to educate a child with autism in Limpopo. They went to Johannesburg for a training course with the school and are now here with us, teaching him every day," she explains.
She reiterates the need for a specialised school for children living with autism. "We need schools which address our children's needs. Children on the ASD spectrum have different challenges and placing them in one classroom does not address these challenges adequately.
An issue of preference
"In my opinion, an ideal setup would be to have facilities where each child receives an intense one-on-one intervention for their specific challenge and once those challenges are addressed, place them with 'similar' children in one room," Chokoe adds.
The department of education in the province has refuted claims about the waiting list and says it is an issue of parents' preference. "We don't have a dedicated school for learners with autistic conditions but 25 out of 35 special schools have learners with autistic conditions," says provincial education spokesperson Sam Makondo.
"The waiting list period is misinterpreted in the sense that learners are not necessarily at home sitting and doing nothing, but are at various schools. Parents prefer certain schools which are normally full and learners are placed on the waiting list while they are at other schools. So it's a question of preference on the part of a parent that should there be space, they can move their children from a particular school to another school."
Makondo further told Health-e that discussions are currently underway to assign New Horizon special school as provincial autism school.
– Health-e News
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