On Saturday, 28 October, residents of Mkhondo were invited to attend an Autism Awareness Morning while health professionals attended a seminar on the topic on Monday, 30 October, led by Professor André Venter, head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of the Free State.
Community members attending the Autism Awareness morning at Wellsprings Ministries, received valueble information from Prof. Venter about broad spectrum autism to help them better understand the condition. The local Mkhondo Autism Support Group hosted the event and sold raffle tickets to help cover the costs.
They wore blue shirts to show their support towards people with autism. There were displays of the educational toys in the Asidlale Boxes, Bio-Strath and GUDGU cordials. The event was opened with Scripture reading and prayer by Sheldon Hallis and the welcoming was done by Ursula Böhmer, before Prof. Venter addressed the attendees. Prof. Venter visited twelve children with learning difficulties over the weekend.
These children were selected by the Mkhondo Autism Support Group and were selected based on the possibility that they might have autism and the fact that they are not able to otherwise see a specialist. He also visited the three schools attended by the children and was impressed by the support that they are already getting.
For Prof. Venter, the most important thing is for people to realise that there is no “autistic child”. There are no two children with autism who are the same, as the symptoms of autism are very broad. There are, however, a few symptoms that are used as an indication to determine whether a child has autism.
It is important to note that if these symptoms only begin after the age of three, the child does not have autism. It is also important to have the child tested by a professional, as only a trained professional can make a diagnosis. The most common way in which autism manifests, is through a child’s communication abilities. These children do not point at something they want.
If they want anything, they might stand in front of the place it is kept and just scream, or they might take an adult’s hand and place it on the object that they want. They do not share any interest with someone else. If, for example, you tell a toddler to look at a toy that has many lights, the toddler will always look at what you are pointing at. A child with autism, on the other hand, will not show this shared interest. It is not true that children with autism do not speak at all.
They often speak enthusiastically about topics they are interested in. However, the child will speak in a monologue and won’t follow a conversation. A child with autism also has very limited interests. These interests might change as the child grows older, but the child will have only one interest at a time. Children with autism often have mundane interests, such as cars, balls or keys.
These interests later tend to become stranger as they grow older. Most children with autism love shiny objects. Many of the stereotypical ideas of children with autism are untrue. Even though children with autism have repetitive behaviour, such as rocking or making sounds with their mouths, they form a small part of those diagnosed with autism. Children with autism often also have other disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Cognitive Deficit, Tourette-syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
When these children reach adulthood, they often also struggle with some form of addiction. They often struggle with sleeping problems and might regularly stay up all night. Setting a diet for these children also tends to be a challenge. Due to the allergies that these children also tend to have, parents can struggle to create a diet that keeps the child healthy.
Children with autism can be helped to live a normal life. They need the support from the community to ensure that this is possible. They are different and need more patience to be understood. It is important to note that autism is not caused by vaccinations. According to Prof. Venter, there are certain illnesses against which children can be vaccinated that actually cause autism.
Parents are therefore encouraged to continue vaccinating their children to ensure that serious illnesses, such as polio and rubella, cannot surface again. Surely the information provided to the community by Prof. Venter will help everyone create an environment within which children with any disorder can be accommodated to enable them to live a healthy, happy life.
For more information, kindly contact Ursula Böhmer, a representative of the Mkhondo Autism Support Group, at 082 821 0452.