Behind every undiagnosed and unassisted autistic child is a family on the brink of disintegration. “We cannot go out as a family at all. Ever.” This is a normal statement for a family of an unassisted autistic child. The embarrassment, chaos, meltdowns and bizarre behaviour that ensue are simply not worth the effort.
“We cannot leave him with anyone else, so my husband and I now take turns leaving the house,” is the common solution.
Autism is a complex neurological disorder and developmental disability that affects communication skills and social interaction. Autistic children struggle with verbal and non-verbal communication, social skills, leisure and play activities. Intellectual and speech impairments also occur.
The CMI campus at our Johannesburg Hospital School caters for the special needs of autistic children, taking into account the following obstacles:
- Autistic children often struggle with speech development and may be unable to speak.
- Autistic children battle to understand verbal communication as well as non-verbal cues, like body language and facial expressions.
- Autistic children struggle to integrate socially and understand social rules, other people’s thoughts and their emotions.
- Autistic children may become trapped within their own rigid thought patterns and behaviour, and find change and new experiences difficult to manage.
- Autistic children have difficulty in understanding language and abstract concepts.
One out of every 88 people is born with autism. It affects boys more than it affects girls. None of us need to look far before we can think of a relative or a child of a friend who exhibits extremely strange social behaviour that leaves those of us who are “normal” squirming with discomfort: Children who don’t know how to respond to a smile. Children who place their own faces three inches away from your nose and don’t pull away when you do, but only come closer. Children who scream if you touch them. Children who spend days rocking themselves, instead of playing in the playground. Children who don’t curiously or obediently come to greet you when you arrive at a home, but simply stand, staring into a corner.
Behind every family with an autistic child is a community that normally does not understand or support either the child or the family. The nature of the disability drives the family into isolation.
Autism cannot be cured. But it can be managed. Managing autism is about taking children who exhibit this bizarre social behaviour, and giving them interventions to make them less bizarre.This makes their families less bizarre, and integrates both the child and the family back into the community.
The Johannesburg Hospital School provides a safe place of learning for autistic children, helping them to learn and develop while being cognisant of their unique challenges. Small classes with teachers and assistants provide carefully structured care, enabling the children to gain a certain level of independence and develop important life skills. Supervised outings teach the children how to cope with everyday things like shops, traffic and social engagement. Special activities such as therapeutic horse-riding classes can be arranged specifically for children with disabilities.