I’d presented the idea, of converting Little Stars ( the special-needs school I’d established), into a centre, providing instructional ABA for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to our Little Stars teachers. All ten of them opposed it. I had meetings with them to discuss their future and the transition to ABA, and all of them except one resigned, giving me short notice of their termination of employment. They no longer wanted to teach at our school catering for the needs of children with ASD. I was surprised by their resistance to change, and to the fact that they didn’t want to continue teaching the children at Little Stars with autism spectrum disorder. However, I could not be deterred in my search to find solutions for David who had an ASD. A light-bulb had been switched on in my brain. I clearly saw the route we needed to travel to help my son David learn to function, irrespective of his autism spectrum disorder. Determined to get David onto a new path that would improve his quality of life and ours, I wasn’t going to let a few resignations ruin my plans for a new centre treating children with ASD.
I called the Department of Psychology at the University of Johannesburg, explained why I wanted to present to the students, on autism spectrum disorder, and asked for an opportunity to address them. The head of department was very accommodating and set up a time for me to address the Honours, class presenting to them on the topic of ASD. I arrived outside the venue and waited anxiously for the class to fill up. I’d always feared presenting to crowds of people. I could easily conduct a round-table meeting, but standing in front of a room full of people to present on autism spectrum disorder made me feel intimidated and physically ill. I paused for a moment and took a deep breath. For a few seconds, as the students walked in to take their seats, the room started spinning around me. I felt dizzy and wanted to run away, but a voice inside forced me to stay and take control. I had to go through with my presentation on ASD. It was critical to our future success and to David’s education. I had to present the information I’d prepared, to explain to the students about an autism spectrum disorder and how we could teach children with autism.
I asked the class whether they thought that autism was a lifelong disability. The students were in agreement that an autism spectrum disorder was life long. ‘Are children with autism retarded?’ I fired at the class. They all agreed that it was true that children with an ASD are in fact retarded. I explained that this was not correct. I took a question from one of the students, who wanted to know whether children with an ASD were bright, like Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man. I continued to discuss the truths and myths about an autism spectrum disorder, clearing up the many misconceptions held about ASD. Then I appealed to the students for help and handed them a flyer about the new centre I was going to establish for children with an autism spectrum disorder. I wanted to gauge whether they were intrigued by my presentation on ASD; and so asked them to raise their hands if they were planning to contact me. A few arms went up reluctantly. I thanked the lecturer, turned around and made my way to the car in a hurry. It would soon be supper time and the kids were waiting for me. Driving home, I couldn’t be sure that I’d been successful in presenting on the job and on the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder we planned to treat at my new centre. The next day, my phone didn’t stop ringing. Most students who’d attended by presentation on the autism spectrum disorder contacted me, wanting to find out the details. I booked time to interview them and hand-selected seven students for training on how to teach children with an ASD. I had no recruitment team or set interview sheets to follow. I learnt on the job and created my own interview procedures to determine if the students would be suitable to work with children with an autism spectrum disorder. I drafted employment contracts and wrote a code of conduct. I organised a first-aid course and put in place all the pieces needed for the transition of Little Stars to an ABA centre, offering individualised education plans to children with an ASD. Today, The Star Academy successfully services many children with an autism spectrum disorder in South Africa, providing them with ABA programs to secure best outcomes and skill acquisition.