Autism in South Africa

Autism in South Africa – Prevalence

There are no reliable statistics specific to the Autism in South Africa context. Because autism does not discriminate across race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status, we can use the statistics released by the Centre for Disease Control in the United States. Below are some interesting findings recently released by the CDC:
• “About 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
• ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
• ASD is about 4 times more common among boys than among girls.
• Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America have identified individuals with ASD with an average prevalence of between 1% and 2%.
• Studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other will be affected about 36-95% of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has ASD, then the other is affected about 0-31% of the time.
• Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2%–18% chance of having a second child who is also affected.
• ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions. About 10% of children with autism are also identified as having Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, or other genetic and chromosomal disorders.
• Almost half (44%) of children identified with ASD has average to above average intellectual ability.
• Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for having ASD.
• A small percentage of children who are born prematurely or with low birth weight are at greater risk for having ASD.
• ASD commonly co-occurs with other developmental, psychiatric, neurologic, chromosomal, and genetic diagnoses. The co-occurrence of one or more non-ASD developmental diagnoses is 83%. The co-occurrence of one or more psychiatric diagnoses is 10%.”

Diagnosis of Autism in South Africa

The CDC references research that has shown that a diagnosis of autism at age 2 can be reliable, valid, and stable. At The Star Academy, we have started ABA programmes with children as young as 18 months.

Studies have shown that parents of children with ASD notice a developmental problem before their child’s first birthday. Concerns about vision and hearing were more often reported in the first year, and differences in social, communication, and fine motor skills were evident from 6 months of age. The moral of the story? If something feels ‘off’, trust your intuition as a parent and seek the answers you need.

Early detection and intervention leads to the greatest chances of recovery from autism, but individuals who receive ABA at the recommended intensity and quality can benefit at any age. At The Star Academy, each child’s programme is tailor-made to their specific skill deficits, strengths, and challenging behaviours, and is conscious of age and the family’s needs.
Furthermore, because the curriculum used at The Star Academy covers all aspects of typical skill development, a diagnosis is not a requirement for enrolment. The Star Academy conducts an assessment based on the below eight areas of skill development:

• Adaptive skills
• Academics
• Cognition (perspective-taking skills)
• Executive Functions
• Language and communication
• Motor skills
• Play skills
• Social skills

Behavioural challenges are also often symptomatic of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and there is no professional better-equipped to make significant changes in problem behaviour than the team of certified behaviour analysts at The Star Academy. Behaviour Intervention Plans (BIPs) are drawn up following Functional Behaviour Assessments (FBAs), and data is collected to ensure that these interventions are successful in decreasing or eliminating problem behaviour.

Funding for Autism in South Africa

The Star Academy has been fighting for government or medical aid funding for Applied Behaviour Analysis across many platforms for many years, but has yet to win the battle. ABA is funded in the vast majority of states in America – 49 states at the time of writing this article – and the US Surgeon General has declared it a medical necessity for individuals on the autism spectrum. If ABA intervention was funded, the long-term benefits and decrease in direct and indirect care costs would be invaluable and far outweigh the short-term cost and effort.

The Star Academy does everything within its power to make ABA accessible to those who do not have the resources to access the gold-standard of care offered within its walls. This includes parent training, domestic helper training, subscription-based online access to our curriculum, and our outreach programme in Thembisa.

Applications of ABA for Autism in South Africa

The Star Academy has a decade of experience in applying the methods and procedures developed internationally to the South African context. For example, our government’s education objectives are considered in addition to the international education standards outlined in our curriculum’s academic content area.

While we still have ties to our esteemed American affiliate company, the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), we run completely independently from them and have staff with the same qualifications and skill sets. Thus, we bring an international standard of care and treatment to the South African context.

Over the years, we have established and maintained excellent relationships with many schools in and around Johannesburg, Durban, and Pretoria. Because of this, we are able to cater for children who would benefit from being in a mainstream or remedial school environment, with or without facilitation.
We are proud of the fact that we have been integral in changing the outlook for individuals on the autism spectrum in South Africa, and will continue our mission for many years to come.


Autism in South Africa – The Treatment Answer

The Star Academy offers one-to-one Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) services. ABA is the intervention empirically shown to produce the best outcomes for individuals on the autism spectrum.

The Star Academy’s staff complement is comprised of Board Certified Behaviour Analysts, Board Certified Assistant Behaviour Analysts, and Board Certified Autism Technicians.

Research shows that with early, intensive, behavioural intervention, 47% of children can recover from autism. Recovery means that these children will perform in the average range or above on standardized assessments, be able to function independently in a mainstream educational environment, and no longer qualify for a diagnosis of autism. That being said, individuals who receive ABA at a later age will also make significant gains towards living a socially-integrated, happy, and independent life.

The Star Academy curriculum is based on developmental norms and spans eight content areas:

• Adaptive skills
• Academics
• Cognition (perspective-taking skills)
• Executive functions (planning, memory, impulse control, self-management, etc.)
• Language and communication
• Motor skills
• Play skills
• Social skills

Additionally, the staff at The Star Academy are experts in treating the problem behaviour that often accompanies an autism diagnosis and prevents our children from accessing environments and experiences that children without problem behaviour are able and welcome to access.

Each child’s programme is tailor-made. Progress is tracked and evaluated through thorough data collection and analysis. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach and pull from a giant toolbox in helping your child acquire the skills that they did not develop as naturally as other children do.

Autism in South Africa – the centre environment

Many children who walk through our doors begin by receiving centre-based sessions. In some cases, this is because the centre provides them with the optimal environment for improvement in their specific set of skill deficits and challenging behaviours. In other cases, this arrangement is temporary and is only needed until the skills needed to function in and benefit from a school environment are established. In still other cases, centre sessions after school provide opportunities to supplement the gains being made at school as they allow privacy to target issues that arise at school.

Autism in South Africa – the family milieu

Family involvement is crucial to the success of an ABA programme. We also strive to ensure that the gains being made in the ABA instruction setting are translating into real and significant changes in the home setting. This may be achieved through parent attendance to workshops where progress is discussed and stumbling blocks are resolved, parent or domestic training in our methods for better carryover into the home environment, facilitation of positive interaction between siblings, or sessions conducted in the home environment.

Autism in South Africa – the school environment

Getting a good education and/or attending school is something every parent wants for their child. For parents of children on the spectrum, the ability to attend (and thrive in!) school is often a benchmark for their child’s prognosis.

The Star Academy’s experts help to prepare children for benefiting from being in a school environment. Skills such as basic communication, basic play and social skills, eye contact and joint attention, and imitation are prerequisite to a successful school experience and can be taught.

The Star Academy also offers facilitation services for those children who are able to benefit from being in a school environment but are not currently fully benefiting for some or other reason. School environments provide rich opportunities for social interaction and modelling of developmentally-appropriate skills and behaviour. We help children capitalize on these opportunities.

Furthermore, The Star Academy has extensive experience in working on interdisciplinary teams at schools – these may include teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and other professionals.
Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) are often critical to the success and ongoing progress monitoring of a child with autism in a school setting. IEPs ensure that intervention remains goal-oriented and optimally effective.

Autism in South Africa – the community setting

Often, children with autism do not develop skills that are necessary for them to function optimally or safely in community settings. Some children require one-to-one ABA instruction in community settings, for example:

• At group-based extra murals, where much negotiation and collaboration needs to take place.
• With safety skills, such as crossing the road or navigating a shopping mall parking lot.
• At the grocery store to learn to interact with community helpers or use money.
• At birthday parties, where the noise and excitement can be overwhelming for a child on the spectrum.

Autism in South Africa – two-prong intervention

Managing Director, Ilana Gerschlowitz, provides a wealth of knowledge and experience for not only behavioural intervention, but biomedical intervention as well. Biomedical issues underlie the symptoms of autism in many children. It is important to have the biomedical intervention working hand-in-hand with the behavioural intervention so that your child can catch up their developmental delay in acquiring skills, and be receptive and responsive to new skill acquisition.

Ilana has grown an extensive network of connections in the world of biomedical intervention and can shortcut your path to them healing your child’s internal system.

Autism in South Africa – the conclusion

South Africa may be behind international standards in terms of funding for high-quality services and research, but the same excellent standard of treatment is available to families locally. Families no longer need to scour the globe looking for answers- The Star Academy brings them to your doorstep.

Special Needs Schools nursery school to Grade R

My very own ‘Autism South Africa Doctor’

Inclusive Education in South Africa

Play skills and School Placement

Autism in South Africa

Prevention and Treatment for Autism

Autistic teenagers

Autistic child

Autism treatment South Africa