When one reads the title of this article one immediately thinks it is about the stats and the impact of Autism in South Africa but it is not. Instead, it’s a trip down imagination lane!

Autism is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact with others. It is characterised by restricted or repetitive behaviour. These include the repetitive movement with objects like fidgeting with a toy, repeated body movements like flapping of hands or rocking as well as some sensory sensitivity. Autism can be a lifelong disorder however treatment is available and can help. Treatments such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) are a medical necessity. Autism affects 1 in 59 children in the United States, and the South Africa statistics are likely to be similar since autism does not discriminate across socio-economic status or location.

Many of the behavioural symptoms of autism are things that we all do. The difference is that they last longer, the individuals don’t grow out of them, or they are more intense and thus lead to interference with social interaction or learning. Many of the symptoms are more noticeable in an individual on the spectrum because they don’t know how to compensate for them or reign them in to socially acceptable levels or find appropriate alternatives for them. So maybe, just maybe, everyone is a little bit on the Autism spectrum in South Africa.

Imagine, if you will, an autistic South Africa. Indulge me in imagining being surrounded my more of the endearing components of an autism diagnosis.

Completely normal behaviour: being nervous when meeting new people. You might look around the room and bit more or break away from eye contact a bit more than if you were talking to someone you had known for years. A person on the spectrum will likely make no eye contact whatsoever, thus appearing rude or unfriendly. Imagine in autistic South Africa, where that is normal and accepted rather than misunderstood or shunned, you simply move yourself into that person’s range of vision and keep talking. Or forget about the social conventions requiring us to make eye contact, and focus on the quality of the verbal exchange!

Completely normal behaviour: telling your friend what you think of their new haircut. The autistic version of this is telling you 100% the truth, all the time, regardless of whether or not it hurts! Many individuals with autism don’t understand the need for deception, for example in the form of a white lie. Imagine, in autistic South Africa, if we all said exactly what we thought all the time! Liberating? Or chaos-causing!

Personally, I would love to spend a day in Autistic South Africa, meeting its people and their refreshingly simple and honest view on the world.

Autism is a growing population in today’s society. More and more parents are facing the diagnosis of Autism than ever before and it is easy to believe that they are feeling overwhelmed. There are more therapies and interventions catering to Autism now than in the past and parents can often feel overloaded with information when it comes to Autism in children.

Understanding the basics is a good place to start. Autism in Children is a spectrum disorder, this means to say that the variety and severity of symptoms can vary greatly from child to child. Autism impacts each child’s nervous system in varying degrees, this accounts for variations in symptoms and prognosis. Early diagnosis is key for effective intervention and treatment, at the Star Academy we believe that early effective intervention can greatly improve quality of life and outcomes.

In the past an Autistic Diagnosis was seen as a hopeless sentence that had no possible positive outcome. Today with Autism in Children being more prevalent than ever before it is a huge relief to say that there are more options for children with Autism and more hope than ever before. The Star Academy uses a multi-faceted Applied Behavioural Analysis approach to target all areas such as social challenges, language delays and even basic gross motor development. Applied Behaviour Analysis is based on the science of learning and uses accurate data to ensure that new skills are transferred and learnt in a systematic way. It can target many areas all at once and can be implemented in a therapy setting, school setting and every day life. By targeting all these areas in therapy the outcome is a holistic development that focuses on what the individual needs instead of what the outcomes should be according to a rigid therapy structure.

Allowing for flexibility within therapy allows for a greater understanding of each child’s areas of strengths and challenges. It allows the therapy team to customise their approach and understanding of the child on different levels. Developing on their strengths and supporting challenges helps each child to achieve and experience success, which is crucial for self development. At The Star Academy we strive to have each child feel successful within their capabilities. There is also a strong focus on developing independence and autonomy which helps our children to become functioning and contributing members of society.

Autism in children does not follow a set path or guidelines. Each family’s and each child’s needs is a unique experience that will requires its own support and assistance in different areas. Working with a team of committed individuals ensures that areas of concern are addressed and common goals are reached through therapy. Many families are finding new hope and support to help them overcome their autism diagnosis.

Autism doctors in South Africa: Firstly, when it comes to diagnosing a child on the Autism spectrum it would have to be through a trained health professional for example, psychiatrist, neurologist or child psychologist. Their diagnosis will be based on the DSM-5 diagnosis for Autism. An applied behavioural analysis instructor will not be able to provide a diagnosis but will and can refer to a trained health professional of South Africa.

There are however many Autism doctors in South Africa that have specialised in ASD children. The can provide bio-medical options and can refer you to behavioural training centres.

One of the main influencers in the biomedical approach is Doctor Lindenberg. She is not only the sought after doctor in terms of the biomedical approach but she also offers various talks to other health professionals, teachers and parents around ASD. As more people of the community and society become aware the more likely they are able to seek the correct assistance to assist the child in the best possible way. Doctor Lindenberg’s philosophy is that she will only conduct the tests that are necessary should it be highly required and if the tests could lead and contribute to altered change to the child’s life. The most common tests in which they conduct are : blood tests at a pathology laboratory, urine tests, urine challenge tests, stool analysis and personal genomic tests. Doctor Lindenberg is based in Cape Town and more information can be driven from her website : http://drlindenberg.co.za

Autism doctors in South Africa: Another doctor in South Africa that had special interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder is Doctor M Mabeba. She is a specialist child psychiatrist in South Africa.

Hannah Kaye is a specialist nutritionist in South Africa, she has attended the Defeat Autism Now conference in California, alongside many other health professionals, researchers and scientists on the biomedical approach. She has a strong message that is in line with The Star Academy in saying that Autism recovery is possible. She believes that in order for our body to be at its optimal we

should and have to consume the correct types of foods that have the most important nutrients that our body needs. She used the biomedical approach to decipher the correct nutrients a child should consume for the best possible outcome and results in a holistic approach. She is a knowledgeable and insightful person when it comes to the nutrition side. Also, further information can be sought from her website :http://hannahkaye.co.za/about-hannah-kaye/

It is always said to gain as much knowledge around ASD before taking any approach, as the most important person is your child and their life.

At The Star Academy, we like to incorporate a holistic approach to treating a child on the Autism Spectrum. It is a combination of the behavioural training, nutrition and the biomedical approach. The Star Academy is going to great lengths to train medical doctors in South Africa under international biomedical doctors so that we can bring the same level of expertise to our children with a more pleasing price tag.

1. DO HORMONAL CHANGES STILL OCCUR?

Autistic teenagers experience the same hormonal and bodily changes, growing interest in relationships and frustrations of regular adolescence as neurotypical teenagers do, however they may lack the ability to communicate such concerns. Factor in a difficulty relating to others on an emotional and social level and this makes such an experience even more difficult. The transition from childhood to adolescence is a tough period for all children and finding an efficient way for children to cope, understand and communicate such changes is something we at The Star Academy take pride in. The Star Academy, aims to reduce the difficulty of such a transition by developing effective coping mechanisms for the child to engage in when they want to manage or express the changes they are experiencing.

2. DEMANDS INCREASE!

Whether it be in the home environment or at school, demands on teenagers increase drastically. Managing a busy work load, having to prioritise work assignments, follow complex instructions and new self-care practices, can be overwhelming in any circumstances but experiencing this as an Autistic teenager is even more so. For example, one’s rigidity to routines or change and sensitivity to environmental stimuli like school bells or bright lights can be overwhelming, being a concrete, literal thinker may bring challenges in social settings, or difficulty acknowledging social cues can make such demands seem more difficult. Due to these increasing demands into adolescence, The Star Academy is proactive in assisting our learners with managing such demands, through the use of visual aids such as activity schedules to show the child what they have to do and how much time they have to complete it, as well as learning various adaptive, cognitive and executive function skills necessary for managing such demands.

3. PREPING FOR ADULTHOOD STARTS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD!

Every child learns skills that will be valuable for them in their adulthood and autistic children should not be any different.
The Star Academy advocates for early intervention in the form of an evidence-based form of treatment namely Applied Behaviour Analysis, in order to hit the ground running, teaching skill acquisition and behaviour modification techniques, attaining skills and techniques that will put an Autistic teen in good stead when they enter adolescence.

Autism and teenage years in South Africa bring with them the need for many safety and social skills. Our teenagers are faced with many safety concerns on a daily basis as are we all, and they need to be specifically equipped to navigate these situations.

4. IS EMPLOYMENT POSSIBLE?

Getting your first job is a major milestone of one’s adolescence, as such it is vital that Autistic teenagers are given the same opportunity to reach this milestone.

The Star Academy prides itself with facilitating such a milestone and increases the likelihood of such a milestone taking place. Through Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy, The Star Academy teaches various skills that one would need to enter and work in the business world as well as assist our learners in seeking employment opportunities from local South African businesses. Star Academy instructors facilitate various children in their jobs, with the end goal of the child becoming an independent employee. We are also known for helping our learners establish their own businesses and with their previously learnt skills (learnt through their one-on-one ABA sessions), are successful in making their businesses self-sufficient!
The Star Academy team can help navigate autism and teenage years in south Africa, bearing our specific economy in mind.

5. ANXIETY A RISK?

Anxiety is often a concern for many teenagers given the complexity of adolescences, however the risk for Autistic teenagers is even higher! This can be due to the increasing demands, complex social environments and growing awareness of interpersonal differences and difficulties.
Autistic children might encounter social or unfamiliar situations, which can be very overwhelming. Deficits in social skills and emotional understandings, result in Autistic teenagers often experiencing difficulties in interpreting what someone else is thinking or feeling or how someone might react in a specific situation. Consequently, these experiences increase a child’s anxiety and in turn their anxiety interferes with their social skills. Furthermore, Autistic children might have difficultly communicating their anxiety in an appropriate manner, as such they might engage in more problem behaviour.

The Star Academy aims to assist such an experience by teaching the child how to identify and express their emotions as well as teach them various coping strategies and techniques that the child can access when they feel they are about to become anxious and/or when they are feeling anxious.

6. INCREASE YOUR TEENS INDEPENDENCE!

Independence is a necessary rite of passage for teenagers and whilst it might be scary for typical parents to loosen the reins, it is even more daunting for parents of Autistic teenagers and this is where we can assist, making this possible and easier. The Star Academy helps to reduce some of this anxiety by teaching their learners a variety of adaptive skills making the transition into adolescence less daunting. From bathing themselves to brushing their teeth, from getting dressed to making their own breakfast, from making their own meals to shopping and using a credit card, from cleaning to gardening and from telephonic skills to pet care, to name a few. These adaptive skills are vital in increasing an Autistic teenager’s independence, confidence and self-esteem, characteristics that are often challenged in adolescence.

– Chad Edery

Receiving an autism diagnosis can be devastating news for almost every parent, but the lack of information and training on autism can make this diagnosis seem like a death sentence for those affected.

Whether you are researching Autism SA Training for your child or for your own educational purposes, there are some things you should be aware of.

When researching as a parent of a child with autism or a related disorder, either for the purpose of putting your child into a school specialized and equipped for managing children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or for Autism SA Training yourself, your family or your own staff, you should be informed on the following:

  • Autism is not caused by bad parenting – you are doing the best you can.
  • Autism is treatable and recovery is possible.
  • Better outcomes are associated with earlier diagnosis and early intervention.
  • Autism is a spectrum disorder which means that an individualised education program is more suitable in catering for the needs of your child.
  • Children with autism learn differently, but it is important to remember that they are still able to learn and that we should be teaching them in the ways that are best suited for them. We need to focus on each child’s individual motivation and learning style.
  • ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) is the only research/evidence – based treatment proven to be effective for treating children with autism and related disorders.
  • While biomedical intervention can be of great importance, it should not be the primary intervention given to your child, but rather used a secondary intervention.
  • There may be other conditions that present before or after your child is diagnosed with autism, such as; toe walking, difficulty with sleep patterns and seizures.
    And above all else, children with autism are still children. They can be affected by all the same things as typical children, only they may not have the communication skills to express this and this is where the behavioural patterns in children with autism display. Interventions that give your child the appropriate way to communicate their needs or give them self-satisfactory sensations, can and should be taught and this is of the utmost importance when researching interventions for your child.

For Autism SA Training courses that may better equip you or your family in managing your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, please visit The Star Academy:

The Star Academy – Founded by Ilana Gerschlowitz and a former affiliate of the CARD (Centre for Autism and Related Disorders) clinic USA, this is a centre for autism that provides one-on-one ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) to children with autism. This means that your child will receive intervention with Board Certified Autism Technicians, trained in the principles of ABA. They will have a team of instructors fully educated and equipped in managing your child’s specific needs, who receive regular trainings, ensuring that they are always up to date on current research and effective treatments. While the academy offers on site therapy programmes with already trained staff members, they also cater for parents looking to train their own staff and will gladly assist you with this endeavour. The Star Academy is based in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban and has affiliate centres across Africa.

Considering placement for your child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) can be a challenging task with all that needs to be taken into account. Finding an autism private schools that offers a specialised treatment plan set out specifically for your child, addressing their individual needs, improving the skills they already have and helping them to reach their full potential is an important task for a parent with a child on the spectrum.

Finding inclusive mainstream schools with support structures put in place for the special needs of children with autism may be a daunting task, and as such, it may be difficult to consider whether or not to seek placement for your child in a mainstream school or to rather seek placement in autism private schools.

There are a few things that should be considered when researching school placement for your child with special needs:

  • Communication: does your child have an appropriate means of communication that can be understood by other people such as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) or an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device, and if not, will the school of your choice be able to provide that for your child?
  • Challenging behaviour: does your child display any challenging behaviour that could inhibit them from learning from their environment, peers and teachers? Is the school equipped in managing challenging behaviours presented by some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder? Find out how they are equipped, what are their qualifications and how do they manage this behaviour? Is this suitable for your child?
  • Classroom support and facilitation: Does the school provide your child with the right support structure in the classroom environment? Are there trained professionals available to assist your child and ensure that their skill deficits are addressed within the classroom environment? What training do these professionals have? And how will they develop and IEP (Individualized Education Programme) for your child?
  • Skills: What skills does your child already have and which ones will they need in the classroom? How can you provide your child with these skills before enrolling them at school? Or, will the school provide these for your child either during school hours or after school hours with specialized care and intervention?
  • Peer interaction: what deficits does your child have when it comes to interacting with his or her peers? Will the school be equipped to give your child the appropriate means for bettering his or her interaction with their peers? Are the peers in the classroom environment educated on children with special needs and will they be educated on how to interact, communicate and understand your child with special needs? How will your child’s social interaction be bettered at your chosen school? Will they be included?

While some of these questions may be difficult to answer, they are important to acknowledge when choosing the right school for your child. The specialists at The Star Academy can provide expert guidance in answering and taking action from the answers to these questions.

The saying, “Team work makes the dream work” is evident when placing your child with autism in school. Remember, that you may need more than one type of support for your child and if this is the case, everybody who will be a part of your child’s journey, plays an important role. So the above must be considered in all possible scopes, so that the changes made are made with consistency. Consistency is key to the maintenance of your child’s recovery.

An article by Lisa Jo Rudy shows questions that parents can answer in order to decide whether to send their child with autism to school and preschool. These questions include taking into consideration factors that play a role such as the child’s needs, social acceptability, schools that are willing to admit the child, the parents ability and time to work with the child constantly to improve his/ her ability to cope in the school environment, and lastly, finding a therapist that will be equipped with the skills required to help the child adapt to the school environment.

These factors are easy to counter act with the help of the Star Academy. The child will receive ABA therapy from certified instructors who will follow a program uniquely designed for each child. School and Pre-school is very much possible with this ray of hope.

THE CHILD’S NEEDS:
A child with autism has unique needs and challenges. These needs and challenges are considered individually, and a lesson or intervention will be set in place to mould every need into an ability. The challenges faced by a child with autism are identified and the team work on an intervention that can help the child cope despite these challenges. Behaviour also plays a huge role in the decision of School and Pre-school. Behaviour interventions are put into place to work through the child’s reasons for behaviour. Replacement behaviours are put into place which provides the child with the same input in a socially acceptable means through appropriate communication.

SOCIAL ACCEPTIBILITY:
Autism in preschool and school can be easily identified in a class of neurotypical children. The program designed for the child will take into consideration his/ her quirks that are noticeable by those who do not understand. The child will have lessons put into their program which will allow the child to communicate appropriately with his/ her peers as well as with his/ her teachers. These lessons allow for the child to adapt to their environment efficiently.

SCHOOLS AND PRE-SCHOOLS THAT ACCEPT CHILDREN WITH AUTSIM:
The Star Academy has developed great relationships with numerous mainstream schools in and around the areas of The Star Academy Centres. These relationships allow placement of children with autism into these schools. The Star Academy works with the school and develop goals that will be worked on in order to reach the child’s independence in the school environment.

CONSTANT WORK TO HELP THE CHILD ADAPT AND THERAPIST AVAILABILITY:
A child with Autism in preschool and school seems like hard work to help the child adapt to the school environment. The Star Academy provides one-on-one therapy with the child. This allows the highly level of personalized work with the child to allow the child to adapt to his environment. If recommended in the child’s unique program, school facilitators are also available to help the child adapt within the school environment amongst his/ her peers and teachers as well as help in teaching the curricular outside of school sessions with the child.

Autism in pre-school and school can be a smooth sailing with these tools to equip the journey to recovery.

– By Arielle Maganlal

The Star academy is an affiliation clinic which serves as a Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD). The Star Academy implements a therapy called Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Which follows the notion that behaviours that are reinforced or praised will increase and behaviours that are put on extinction (ignored) will decrease. They are all about replacing unwanted behaviour with appropriate behaviour.

The Star Academy has centers in Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Durban. They also provide services to clients in Rwanda, Ghana, Mauritius, Rustenburg, and even as far as the United Kingdom! The Star Academy have wonderful staff members that are dedicated to giving their everything to ensure a turnaround for an Autism diagnosis. The Star Academy was founded and is still spearheaded by Ilana Gerschlowitz, an autism mom and advocate.

At The Star Academy Autism jobs Johannesburg, you will receive intensive training from a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst along a reasonable timeline. Within three months of employment, all of our staff sit for the Board Certified Autism Technician exam, offered by the Behavioural Intervention Certification Council in the United States. This prestigious credential requires ongoing education as well, and each staff member receives rigorous ongoing training and support from a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst.

When looking for autism jobs Johannesburg, there is nowhere better to look if you are seeking to make a real, marked, and tangible difference in the lives of families affected by autism. Our staff are thoroughly invested in the progress of every child who walks through our doors, and the structure of our intervention makes it possible (if not necessary!) for parents to be involved in their child’s treatment.

What we cannot promise is that what you will find at The Star Academy is just a job – it is so much more than that. Our staff’s lives have been irrevocably changed by the work they do. It is a vocation, a calling, a career, and for many a lifelong passion. We have staff members who walked in 9 years ago thinking that some time at The Star Academy would be just one of many good experiences for them, fell in love, and never left.

– Magriet Kleynhans

References

• Liza Little (2002) MIDDLE-CLASS MOTHERS’ PERCEPTIONS OF PEER AND SIBLING VICTIMIZATION AMONG CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER’S SYNDROME AND NONVERBAL LEARNING DISORDERS, Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 25:1, 43-57, DOI: 10.1080/014608602753504847

• Mash, E. and Wolfe, D. (n.d.). Abnormal child psychology. 6th ed.

• Ozonoff, S., South, M., & Miller, J. N. (2000). DSM-IV-Defined Asperger Syndrome: Cognitive, Behavioral and Early History Differentiation from High-Functioning Autism. Autism, 4(1), 29–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361300041003

• Szatmari, P. (2000). Syndrome. The American Journal of Psychiatry.

• V. M. Bishop (1989) Autism, Asperger’s syndrome and semantic-pragmatic disorder: Where are the boundaries?, British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 24:2, 107-121, DOI: 10.3109/13682828909011951

By Arielle Maganlal

Autism is broken up into two domains:

  1. Challenges in social communication (vocal, identifying tone of voice and facial expressions, identifying literal and figurative expressions/ language, giving eye contact when interacting, identifying emotions in others and how to react to them), and
  2. Repetitive and restricted behaviour patterns (repetitive body movements and object movements, restricted staring at lights or movements, unusual interest in topics).

These characteristics can be spotted at an early age, generally, autism can be diagnosed at the age of 18 months onwards. However, hope is not lost if autism is picked up in an age above 18 months. For example, autism in a 5-year-old is still treatable and there is still lots of hope to join the road to recovery.

Autism in a 5-year-old can be identified but not limited to the following:

  • Challenges in social skills can be presented in the child not responding to his/her name, chooses to play alone and does not participate in pretend play, does not give eye contact or understand gestural cues and expressions, isn’t interested in making friends or playing with other children.
  • Challenges in language can be seen as little to no speech, repeats words and/or phrases, doesn’t understand sarcasm, humour or expressions.
  • Challenges in behaviours are generally the inability to control his/her emotions, produces repetitive actions such as flapping hands or waving, attractions to unusual parts of toys (such as spinning the wheels of a car rather than driving it), and obsessive interests.

An article by Denise Mann discussed Autism being diagnosed at the age of 5 years and older. This article explains that Autism was spotted at a school going age and quite a high percentage of children in the US were diagnosed with autism. Autism in a 5 year old is still early enough to get onto the road to recovery through Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). The ideal amount of ABA therapy for children with autism is 40 hours a week. This one-on-one based therapy works with an individualised program that works to improve these social communication challenges and reduced the occurrences of the restricted and repetitive behaviours.

At this school going age of 5 years old, children with autism, require one-on-one work to provide the child with tools that will equip him/ her to have an ordinary school experience. School facilitation plays a huge role in this process, as apart from the one-on-one ABA therapy, the facilitator attends school with the child and cues him/ her with the socially acceptable responses to the different events of the day at school. The facilitator also works with inappropriate behaviour and implements the specific behaviour intervention plan for the child’s behaviour/ behaviours. The child learns to replace his/her inappropriate behaviour with socially acceptable behaviour yet still receive the input that he/ she desires.

Autism in a 5-year-old may seem like a challenging endeavour, however, The Star Academy provides the therapy and programs that can help make this journey to recovery a possibility.

Autism Spectrum Disorder has become a household topic in South Africa nowadays. This is due to the rise in numbers of children being diagnosed with autism. Autism has been known to the South African community for many years, but of late it has become more prevalent. This is a good thing in that more and more exposure of information about autism is reaching people. This helps more children being correctly diagnosed. With this being said the facilities for autism children to attend is greatly lacking in South Africa. There are special schools, care centres, remedial schools and there are therapy based centres. However there are not a lot of autism government schools in South Africa. One would think with the rising number of autism diagnosis there would be more autism government schools in South Africa. There are approximately 5 autism government schools in South Africa. This is shocking when you consider that autism affects one in every 59 children. More autism government schools in South Africa will ease the burden for countless families, as there are many autistic children that need the help and support but are unable to afford the cost of private institution, and surprisingly special schools are also expensive. Autism government schools in South Africa are much needed on a larger scale. As autism is not restricted to just a province in South Africa, there are children diagnosed with autism throughout the country. Autistic children also need one on one bases therapy, this helps the child develop a lot more faster than a large classroom based where their specific needs are not seen to immediately, this is referring to both academically and emotionally. This being said autism government schools in South Africa should cater for these needs and have smaller classrooms and have one on one bases.

We at The Star Academy would like to take this one step further. Yes, more government schooling options would be helpful. But, children with autism require a highly specialised learning environment run by professionals with the right qualifications. For those who cannot afford one-on-one Applied Behaviour Analysis in the format it is offered at The Star Academy, we have an online curriculum available for subscription and Board Certified professionals available for consultation. We would also love to expand on our work in Tembisa, where we have started a hospital school for children with autism whose parents live on or below the breadline. With support from donors and corporates, our dream of extending support to more families in need can be realised. Government support in mandating coverage for Applied Behaviour Analysis from medical aids would also be a move in the right direction. Our ultimate goal is true inclusion – a country in which children with autism are not relegated to certain schools but rather fully integrated into schooling systems with their peers. The Star Academy has the resources to facilitate this – contact us to find out more.