Autism is a developmental disorder, which typically develops at a young age and can greatly impair one’s social skills. People with autism often have difficulties communicating, differentiating between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and directly interacting with others. There is a spectrum associated with the disorder that correlates with the severity of a person’s behavior; ranging from high functioning and extremely intelligent to low functioning and nonverbal. Autism affects people regardless of where they live, their ethnic background or their socioeconomic class. While it is approximated that only 1 to 2 percent of the population has this developmental disorder, autism treatment in South Africa is becoming increasingly prevalent as the rate of diagnosis is rising.
Autism in South Africa
Within the secluded, underdeveloped regions of South Africa, medical care can often be difficult to come by, including diagnoses. However, it has been estimated that the diagnosis of developmental disabilities, including autism, has increased 70 percent in South Africa in less than 30 years. This is in direct correlation with medical care becoming more readily available in areas where it had never been before.
The disparities within the health care system are even more notable in populations that are already vulnerable, which includes the majority of the communities in South Africa. Young children on the spectrum rarely receive support or services largely due to a lack of access.
Autism Treatment in South Africa
Research has shown that occupational and speech therapy services are integral for autistic individuals. As a result, autism treatment programs have begun popping up and are providing different modes of treatment. These include advocating for children with the disorder to receive Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and other methods that promote inclusivity. The following organizations are all committed to autism treatment in South Africa.
- The Centre for Autism Research in Africa: The leading autism clinical research program in South Africa, this center is based in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town. The center’s research is founded upon three basic principles: clinical research through screenings and diagnosis, teaching and training of those diagnosed and their families as well as the community and advocating for the rights of those with autism. Recognizing the crucial role technology can play in improving the lives of the underprivileged autistic community in South Africa, the center uses technology, including stimming apps and noise-canceling headphones, in its work.
- The Star Academy: The Star Academy, alternately known as the Centre for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc, is an exemplary institution that supports individuals with autism and their families. Centers that offer this support are located throughout South Africa, in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. Star Academy’s motto is “Recovery is Possible,” and while the organization don’t promote the concept that autism is reversible, significant gains are very possible. Research has shown that those who start intervention at a younger age are able to benefit most from intensive applied behavior analysis therapy, one of the most common treatments for autism. The organization also incorporates PROMPT Instruction therapy, which is a holistic approach that focuses on developing or regulating speech. These improvements are most evident through increased academic performances, and in some cases, have resulted in physicians diagnosing children as no longer being on the spectrum.
- Autism South Africa: Autism South Africa is another organization that is greatly benefiting the autistic community. Adding a different perspective to autism treatment in South Africa, Autism South Africa promotes the diversity that every autistic child brings to the community and works to empower them. The organization also has a strong partnership with the Centre for Autism Research in Africa, which provides data on autism in the country. The four pillars of the organization are parent empowerment, advocacy, lobbying and training. Each step of the diagnosis has a holistic focus, and the organization is working to ensure the autistic population has a bright future.
With autism diagnosis being on the rise in many underdeveloped communities, it is encouraging to see organizations and programs that are focused on assisting the developmentally challenged through a variety of methods. Moving forward, autism treatment in South Africa must continue to be a priority for these organizations and others.
– Joanna Buoniconti
Photo: Wikimedia Commons