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Stories of Hope for Autism Awareness Shared by Staff

When you choose ABA for your child there will always be progress. At times the progress may be momentous, and at times the progress may be small – but there will always be progress. I have in mind two beautiful children, each progressing at very different rates, both of their progress noteworthy and worth celebrating.

One is a 13-year-old, non-vocal young man. We celebrate the independence he is achieving in daily living skills. He has learned to make a bed, dress himself fully, recognize when it’s time to go to the bathroom and go on his own. He can turn the TV on and off for himself, as well as pause and play. This young man can independently dish up and heat his food, he can feed himself independently. He uses his communication device effectively to obtain what he needs – although the ultimate aim would be conversational use. His language is developing well and he can recognise and label a number of familiar people, locations and objects.

After two years of ABA, he is achieving the levels of independence his parents desire for him. He is now also able to enjoy going out with his family – and they enjoy going out with him.

I also think of a most precious three year old little girl. She started her ABA, unable to communicate, play, interact with her peers or learn. Within a year she is using full sentences to communicate vocally- she has generalised this skill naturally. She not only communicates to make her needs known, she comments on things in her environment, communicates to facilitate play and for social interaction. She is fully toilet trained. She is using a spoon to feed herself. She has made massive gains in the areas of language development, as well as academics. She plays appropriately with toys and is now attending school independently.

Two very different success stories. Both worth celebrating. Each child reaching their potential. Each child being the best he/she can be. Each worth celebrating!

-Candice Breetzke



I have a lovely story to share with you regarding two of the kiddies I’ve been working with for the past few months. They started doing ABA with The Star Academy last year November and have honestly just excelled in skill acquisition training, as well as in functional communication. I am so proud to say that for these two kiddies who didn’t use their words to communicate at all before ABA, now use their words so beautifully, to tell all those around them what they need and want. This is done using PECS file where they have independently started asking for specific toys, such as their puzzles, tractor, elephants, bubbles, playdough, books, ball and much more. They also started giving expressive follow ups and now request items and/or activities using their words. Namely: bubbles, tickles, sweeties, sprinkles, milk, water, cookies, ‘come here’ and ‘pick me up’.

Besides this amazing progress regarding their form of communication, they have done just as well with their adaptive skills. They are now able to undress themselves, wash their hands with minimal assistance and so much more.

S and L can now identify actions, shapes, people, colours, animals and numerous objects in their environment using their words. They respond to their names and make beautiful eye contact. I am so immensely proud.

I am so honoured to be a part of the continuous progress of every single individual I get to work with. AUTISM IS TREATABLE!! .

And I will forever give my all to prove it❤️

-Sam Potgieter



I have been working with a child since August 2021, when she enrolled at Star. She came in with very little speech, which was limited to either counting numbers or saying the alphabet. She could not engage in conversation, by listening and responding to others.

However, I am so happy to share that she has made significant progress over these past months. She started off with learning and adapting very well to her PECS, afterwards she started picking up on the words used with her PECS card, then started saying the words! She also recently started saying words or parts of a word when told to say a particular word! This is amazing because she couldn’t do this before!!😍

In addition to this wonderful progress she is also doing very well with imitation lessons, adaptive lessons and gross motor activities. She has even mastered some of these since joining.

I am so very proud of our little star’s progress! She has come a long way!🥰🙌🏽

I am honoured to be part of her journey! Working with her has really been special ♥️

Nangamso Kwinana



In 2021 on World Autism Action Day, I got to meet little 23 month, Baby. He was shy, scared, confused and just fixated on wanting to put every toy in his mouth. He did not see the need to interact with those around him or the dozens of toys in front of him.

This little boy babbled a few sounds, he was on pureed food, as he did not know how to chew.

A week later he started 8hrs a day of ABA, the first few weeks was a real battle, he would get upset the second he was asked to do something or even if you just said a word to him. But we did not give up, this was and still is a war that we will fight for this little boy to get to live a beautiful battle-free life ahead of him.

After a few weeks he found comfort and immense trust in us , this little Champ began to imitate actions, sounds, he was ready to explore his full potential and began to bloom day by day. He was on board and ready to fight with us to reach his full potential.

Today our boy eats all by himself, he is on a gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free diet. He is able to eat with a fork and a spoon, and boy, you will never see a baby eat as neatly as this little guy. He eats carrots, baby marrow, chicken, cucumbers, every possible fruit, anything that’s good for him. He will munch it down with great ease!

He is able to identify all colours and shapes, he can count from 1 to 20, identify numbers up to 30, he knows his alphabet.

At 2 years and 10 months, he can through a ring time, sing nursery rhymes, imitate all actions and interact in a morning routine that would be done at grade RR.

He is able to complete all task completion play activities independently, he started of with building 2 piece interlocking puzzles and can now build up to 50 piece puzzles.

Wait for it…

Remember he babbled a few sounds?

We worked on him requesting for items by just saying a sound, sounds got shaped into single words, single words moved to 2 word requests. We are now working on him requesting using 3 word sentences.

He independently requests using 1 to 2 words and sometimes a whole sentence. He is able to identify all his team members and call them by their names.

He makes choices between items that he wants with great ease. He has come such a long way within a year, on the battle field.

We will not stop there… We will continue to fight until this little boy is cured! Our goal is for him to no longer need us or any intervention in his future. Every second we watch him kick autism down and say no! You will not take away this precious life I have.

This is just a tiny part of what he has achieved thus far, with the right soldiers by your side, autism doesn’t need to be accepted, it can be treated, knocked down and cured!!!

Help us spread this awareness not just today, but every day!

-Leticia Francis



Marken began at The Star Academy-Durban on the 18 of April 2019 at the age of 2.5 years with 25 hours of ABA therapy a week. Marken had difficulty attaining skills at the beginning of ABA. This included pivotal skills such as compliance, eye contact, language, communication and imitation. Both his parents were patient throughout the process and were assured that once he attained a sense of comprehension, skills would develop, and develop they did! He concurrently only ate pureed foods and avoided solids due to his inability to chew. After a few short months of tantrum behaviour and non-compliance, Marken began to LEARN. He started off communication using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). Tantrum behaviour subsided and the team gained compliance. Through this Marken mastered eye contact and imitation. His receptive understanding increased and he has mastered several one step functional instructions. Marken’s communication moved from PECS to Touchchat, and he is now currently learning to make requests vocally. Through his feeding program he has learnt how to eat solid foods (and a variety of them, at that). Marken mastered toilet training- this was a year long process, however, through the endurance and persistence of his team and parents, this was attained. Marken has begun to grow into his personality. He laughs a lot more, makes his dislikes known and is constantly keen to request for all forms of affection. He is adventurous, headstrong and playful. Marken has come such a long way and I have no doubt that with further ABA he will be able to gain his independence.

-Nicole Gokul


At the age of 37, I was unexpectedly blessed with twin boys. When they were around 12 months, I noticed the delays in speech and in reaching their milestones. One of them had marked signs and symptoms of autism, the finger flapping, walking on his toes, obsession with spinning objects, no eye-contact at all and, of course, still no speech. It was a struggle to get a diagnosis, or even any kind of treatment / therapy, as I was abroad where this condition is a social stigma. Returning to South Africa, he had the ADOS and Griffiths tests which confirmed autism.

I remember sitting alone while I got the diagnosis – Level 3 non-verbal. I remember being numb, the ringing in my ears, and then just crying. I cried for the battles he would face, I cried for the difficulties he would face, I cried for the isolation he would encounter, I cried for the unfairness of it all. One brother neurotypical, and his brother is autistic. I cried for the questions that I would inevitably face. Why am I different from my brother, why do I go to a different school? As a mother I felt inadequate, as I didn’t have the skills to deal with this.

He was started at a “school for kids with special needs”. It was not what we would have ideally liked, but it occupied him and the people were nice enough. After a few months, when Covid first started, we were asked not to bring him to school, as I was a nurse working in the ER and they could not put their staff and students at risk. So once again, we were hunting for a suitable fit for him. By coincidence, I found The Star Academy on a Google search. I reached out to them and chatted to Ilana and an appointment was set up for an assessment.

It was at this appointment that we met Avisha and Terena (we met Riv later) who are his foundation, his loudest cheerleaders and my family’s angels. He took to them immediately. He loved getting up, getting ready and going to “school” and I loved seeing the joy of it all. Within 2 months, my son was more vocal, he was holding eye-contact for a few seconds, he was eating by himself, he was being toilet trained and being taught to be more independent. I watched in awe as they taught him with love, fun and patience what is normal for you and me, and I loved that he loved it all. I was amazed at the potential of this boy who was making progress with leaps and bounds. All he needed was the right therapy with the right people.

Fast forward 2 years, we have added more incredible people to his team. While we are no longer in South Africa, we continue ABA with his team on a daily basis. At his last ADOS, he was level 2 verbal, and we are extremely proud of the progress he has made with the guidance of his soldiers at The Star Academy. My son is now at an American International School, in mainstream, and is one of the top students in his class. He is reading, writing and interacting well with family, friends and teachers. His behaviour, social skills and communication has vastly improved, and he engages wholly now, rather than isolating himself.

It will never go away, but he will most certainly have the skills to deal with whatever life throws at him. I would not change anything about the last 5 years. Having a child on the spectrum has taught me that there’s no right and wrong, there’s just different. It has taught us as a family to celebrate small victories and laugh at the failures, and then just keep trying until you succeed.

A huge thank you to our amazing team of heroes at Star Academy – Avisha, Terena, Riv, Nicole, Camille, Kajal, Nemisha, Cindy, and admin. We could never have gotten here without you.

– Faiza and Samy Abdelrhim


I started working with 3 year old Zayn last year in September. Zayn only had 1 hour of ABA over zoom each day, with help from mom Zayn started to blossom bit by bit. He started getting more vocal instead of just saying sounds and pointing to things he started giving his best approximations. This happened in just 3 months.

Zayn is extremely clever and his acquisition rate is insane. He knows all his shapes, colours, emotions, and numbers.

I recently came to the UK to help Zayn as much as possible with his ABA.

Words cannot describe how proud I am of this special boy, he is running through toilet training. Starting to say new sounds and putting words together, generalising his skills at school and starting with sharing and turn taking at school.

Zayn has come such a long way in only 6 months. With the help from mom and supervisor Candice Breetzke working together- Zayn has honestly been amazing. He tries so hard everyday and gives all he has with his speech.

My heart is filled with hope for our beautiful boy 🤍

– Lise Stofberg


Why? This three-letter word plagued our minds and thoughts. Why us, why our son had to be autistic?  After some reflection on all the things we are blessed with, we started asking why not us.  Even if we were given the choice to choose whose baby should be autistic we would not be able to as we could not wish it to someone else and it was with that profoundness that we embraced our autism battle.  Our son was only 20 months of age when we decided not to turn a blind eye anymore on the behavioural issues that we had seen him display.  We went online and started researching all that we could on his behaviour. And what was prevalent in all the literature that we read up was that autism is curable and that early intervention is essential.  This led to beginning our journey with Star Academy and it has been the best investment we have ever made.  “When eating the fruit, remember who planted the tree”, it’s with this quote that I appreciate the devotion, dedication and most of all the love of the Star Academy team.  We see the fruits in our son, in his demeanour, communication and sense of human interaction.  He has such an enlightened awareness and connection, it’s like there is a light switch that has been switched on.  He soldiers on to fight the good fight everyday and the Star Academy team encourages him and pushes him to be the best he can be.

– Anonymous parents


Neha began at The Star Academy-Durban on the 10th of May 2021 at the age of 4. She currently receives 15 hours of ABA therapy each week. PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) was initially used as her source of communication as she had difficulty articulating her wants and needs. Her inability to communicate gave rise to maladaptive behavior but decreased substantially once she was able to request for what she required. Through diligent use of PECS, Neha’s vocal language began to increase. Currently, most of her lessons are aimed at receptive understanding (which Neha is FLOURISHING in!! ). She is currently learning how to make requests vocally which is currently being shaped via the Manding (requesting) and Echoics lesson. She is simultaneously learning how to comment on her environment which has increased her knowledge across objects, attributes, people and various other categories. Neha began toilet training in January and has recently started to independently request to use the bathroom. She is strong- willed, feisty and has a “never give up” stance to any task presented to her. I know that Neha will continue to overcome any obstacle placed before her. Her ability to learn has been reinforced by her exceptional therapy team, her parents and grandparents.
Case Manager: Nicole Gokul
Therapy team: Avisha Naidoo, Kajal Ramgareeb and Nadine Naidoo


Lubandzi began at The Star Academy-Durban on the 4th of February 2020 at the age of 3.5 years and 25 hours of ABA therapy per week. He innately possessed strong imitation skills which set the foundation for his success in ABA. Lubandzi had vocal words under his belt, however, words that were not verbalized in context. He would randomly begin to script words/ phrases /lines from movies or music videos despite the situation/ task he was exposed to. He had difficulty communicating his wants and needs despite having vocal language. This caused increased aggression, self- injury and tantrum behavior. Lubandzi’s therapy team worked vigorously on getting his language under instructional control through. After one month of therapy this was achieved. Behavior decreased and Lubandzi began to make one-word vocal requests for items/actions/activities he desired. Conversely, due to decreased maladaptive behavior his receptive understanding grew. Lubandzi can now communicate using full sentences. He mastered toilet training in 2 short months and is currently in grade 000.
He is fun, loving, adventurous and eager to try all tasks posed to him. He is outspoken about his likes and dislikes and has an affinity for good food! Lubandzi will continue on his journey to success as he attends ABA therapy after school to ensure he is keeping up socially, academically and linguistically.
Case Manager: Nicole Gokul
Therapy Team: Leticia Sharice Francis, Nadine Naidoo, Thiesh Moodley and Avisha Naidoo
My name is Nicole Gokul (Case Manager and Centre Manager at the Durban Star Academy).
In June 2018 I initially became the lead on a case pertaining to a 22 month old… KAIYEN NAIDOO 💙. (In early 2019 I became Kai’s Case Manager however continued to concurrently work with him during his ABA therapy sessions twice a week until his last day at Star) . He was non-vocal and had tantrum behavior due to the inability to communicate his wants and needs. This continued for 2months and suddenly… breakthrough! He began to babble, tantrum behavior decreased and was almost non-existent. How so? Might you ask… Well, this was due to PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). He began to fluently communicate using PECS which was consistent during therapy and supplemented at home. Before long, he began to provide vocal follow-ups to his PECS (this was not coherent initially), but was shaped into words via the Echoics lesson. His vocal language grew from words to sentences. At the age of 3 he was accepted into Crawford Pre-primary. He completed Grade 000 without school facilitation and is currently in Grade 00 with successful integration. During the initial stage of lockdown, Kai’s sessions were pushed to Zoom. He was able to sustain his attention on Zoom for up to 4 hours daily (and this at 3.5 years old). He returned to in-person sessions after 4 months of Zoom and superseded further academically. His memory is impeccable and he has the ability to recall everything taught to him since his inception at The Star Academy. He is currently learning to read and mastered being able to tell the time at the age of 4!
Kai’s success is attributed to his therapy team, his parents and his grandparents who carried over everything taught to him at the centre to his home environment.
I am so proud of everything him! This is bittersweet as today marks his graduation from The Star Academy.
I will miss you dearly sweet boy. 💙