WATCH | Mother of autistic son starts crèche for children with the condition

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  • A Cape Town mother couldn't find a crèche to take in her autistic son, so she decided to start one in her home.
  • When she began in 2017, she had only three children enrolled, but up until lockdown, she had 64 children attending her early childhood development centre, both on the spectrum and not.
  • She dreams of one day opening a skills development centre for young adults with autism.

When Phumeza Booi Welisa's three-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, she didn't know what Autism Spectrum Disorder was.

"It was very confusing for me because remember it was the first time I even heard of the word autism... I sat at the Red Cross for more than four hours not knowing where to go, what to do," Welisa told News24.

It's only after her cousin searched for more information on Google that she gained a better understanding of the disorder. 

One of the pieces of information that her cousin shared with her was that Welisa's son Hlumelo would likely be unable to talk. 

"To me it was like the end of the world, really, I was so stressed and so confused... it was so difficult for me," she said.

One of the biggest challenges she faced as a parent was trying to find an early childhood development (ECD) centre that would take on Hlumelo. 

"He was still in nappies and he was already turning four. He was not behaving like other kids."

In a year, she had to change crèches seven times.

"I decided to leave my job. I was working at McDonald's as a supervisor and started looking after my child," she said.

Hlumelo was in nappies until he was eight-years-old - potty training him was one of the biggest challenges Welisa faced.

"As soon as I started doing my own potty training, I said: 'You know what, maybe I can help the other parents that are struggling like I do'," she told News24.

This was when Welisa decided to enrol at the False Bay College in Muizenberg. 

After graduation, she opened her own ECD centre in New Crossroads, Cape Town where she now employs seven people.

When she started the crèche she had only three autistic children, including her son Hlumelo, but up until lockdown she had 64 children - some weren't on the spectrum.

"Because of the need of a crèche in my community the parents with children who aren't on the autism spectrum started to ask me if I could take in their children as well," she said.

According to Welisa, opening up her centre to children outside the autism spectrum made for a successful operation.

"Children with autism can learn from children without autism and children without autism can learn that people are different when they see children with autism," she said.

Her big dream is to open a centre for children with autism in her community, especially a skills development centre for autistic children who have finished school.

"I wish one day that we can have a centre, when they are old, they can have a place where they can go and learn skills like plumbing, carpentry, whatever they can do so that they can be able to work for their families," she said.

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