Acceptance for autistic children in Africa currently stands at an extremely low point, characterized by a dearth of clinicians possessing knowledge about the condition and the inability to diagnose it, leaving numerous children and families grappling to cope.
The challenges faced by individuals with autism are compounded by the paucity of available support, as prevailing societal stigmas often label neurodiverse individuals as “mentally retarded” or “psychotic.” Consequently, parents find themselves with no alternative but to confine their children at home, resulting in devastating consequences.
One mother, identified as “Demas,” recounted to the “Independent” that she had no choice but to tether her autistic child, named Firikte, for eight hours without access to food, water, or bathroom breaks. Firkte’s severe condition rendered her incapable of self-care.
Regrettably, such heartbreaking cases are not isolated incidents, as many parents across Africa are compelled to resort to similar measures due to the absence of viable alternatives.
Furthermore, it is reported that in Ethiopia there are “only 60 psychiatrists,” with coping mechanisms for those suffering from the condition being limited to whether an institution is accepting of the person and is willing to help them to support their needs.
Desperation From a Family in South Africa
In South Africa, a family shares a heart-wrenching story of withdrawing their child from a special school for autistic children due to the unaffordable costs involved.
In May 2020, my husband and I received the most shocking and unexpected news, our second son who is 4 years old, has autism, he is unable to speak and only communicates through using body language and a few signs, he has uncontrolled bible [sic] and strange mannerisms no one can understand.
Due to the fact that there was little to no support in the rural area of Mtubtuba, the family was referred to an autistic school which was around 55 km from their house. However, upon evaluating the school’s monthly fees, they concluded that this option was entirely unattainable.
This realization left the family profoundly disheartened, as they understood that their child would not experience a typical upbringing. Helping him communicate verbally and express himself properly necessitated the support of a mainstream school, which, unfortunately, had to be free of charge.
The child’s mother also reports consistently and tirelessly surfing the Internet to see if she could find government institutions that could help in the area, only to discover that there was nothing.
Moreover, the state of poverty the family was suffering from was also a huge barrier, as a private school in Richards Bay approached the family to offer the child a position at the school, but they were forced to turn it down due to being unable to successfully apply for a loan.
The boy’s mother also reports how she “can’t believe how intolerant and impatient people are towards disabled people and children, this is so sad to me, desperate and saddened.”
Organizations That Are Currently Helping in Africa
- Autism Support Center (Kenya): An organization currently supporting those with autism in Africa is the “Autism Support Center” located in Kenya. It assists with education, therapy, assessment and mentoring for families impacted by the condition. Through improving social support and services and providing access to vocational training as children approach adulthood, the “Autism Support Center” ensures that every child with autism has the chance to lead a bright future. One notable activity provided by the organization is the “Sensory Art Group,” which supports teens and young children by emphasizing the development of their talents and allowing them to relax and explore their creativity. By offering art supplies and encouragement, children feel accepted and loved, rather than alienated from the rest of society. Furthermore, an event that takes place once a month, called the “Social Butterfly,” is a mentoring program that gives children the chance to interact with other autistic peers by taking part in a range of activities, including arts and crafts and swimming.The organization also recognizes the importance of early diagnosis, allowing families to access the right treatment to support the child into adulthood. The tool used to carry out the diagnosis is the EEG Test, which detects the brain’s electrical activity in order to produce a clear and truthful diagnosis of whether the child has autism or not.Another way in which the organization hopes to expand its support is through the use of assistive technology, enabling those with autism to communicate with their peers in the most comfortable way for the individual. This includes speech-generating devices and visual tools that include symbols and pictures with text.
- Brass for Africa: The Dorna Center Home for Autism is an organization dedicated to supporting both children and young adults with the condition. The center aims to provide therapeutic services and education for autistic individuals by encouraging independence and creativity and creating an inclusive setting in which young people can thrive, learn and grow. Back in 2020, the organization was awarded the “Oxfam Voice Grant,” enabling “Brass for Africa,” a project within the “Dorna Center,” to deliver music and life skill sessions at the center. This has led to particularly impressive results, with the children’s concentration increasing greatly. At one time the vast majority of the children could only hold their concentration for 5 minutes, but now it is for over an hour! Furthermore, “Brass for Africa” has enabled children to interact with each other on a creative level. The children can create music, which they can then use to produce performances. One such performance took place for the Ugandan minister for disability.Since 2020, Brass for Africa has successfully supported 228 children by providing an inclusive environment where autistic children in Africa can access the help they deserve in an inclusive, creative and relaxing environment.
Overall, to support those living with autism in Africa, more innovations must be made so that families are no longer forced to hide their children away and can instead live with the hope that they are receiving an inclusive upbringing in society, without consistent financial worry and strain.
– Megan Rose Miley