The Constitution of South Africa states in the Bill of Rights that all South African citizens have the right to basic education, regardless of the barriers to learning. So why is this not the case for South Africans on the Autism spectrum? South Africa’s understanding and recognition of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other neurodiverse conditions, is simply not meeting global standards. We are behind in research, detection, treatment and support, and the most vulnerable amongst us, children, are increasingly having to face these barriers.
A 2020 South African study focusing on Autism in the Western Cape found that between 2012 and 2016 there was a 76.03% increase in Autism Spectrum Disorder in schools. This is an average increase of 15.18% per year. Despite this prevalence, neurodiverse children and their families still face daily challenges with both the diagnosis and management of ASD in South Africa.
One of the most significant barriers that these children and their families face, is education.
A 2013 study from the South African Medical Journal found that there are only 9 public schools in South Africa for children with ASD. Meaning that an estimated 135 000 children on the spectrum are not receiving the vital specialised education that they need.
There are various issues at play here. Firstly, the choice of schools is narrowed down extremely; secondly, there is a minimal availability of special needs services in formal education, followed by a lack of appropriate educational material resources for children with ASD.
While there are more recent private institutions that cater to children with ASD, financially speaking this is not a possibility for the majority of South Africans. For the very few public schools that do accommodate children with ASD, the reality is that they are overstretched and are still inaccessible to a large number of children on the spectrum.
Is the fact that certain schools still do not admit children with ASD or other learning disabilities not in contradiction to the promises of our Constitution? And considering the growing prevalence of children with ASD in South Africa, is this not a public health crisis?
Knowing Autism is a community-driven platform that aims to raise awareness about the ASD public health crisis in South Africa, and that facilitates candid and supportive dialogue around ASD. Knowing Autism’s intent is to give voice to both the joys and the challenges inherent in living with ASD.
Confronting the lack of support available to these individuals and their families, Wendy Bowley has also launched a series of informative webinars as well as mentorship services targeted at supporting those navigating ASD. Wendy, who received a late-onset diagnosis at the age of 44, is also the mother to an Autistic son.
Her life-long journey with the undiagnosed condition has compelled her to help support others who will inevitably need to traverse the complex terrain of schooling, facilitation, behavioural management, understanding of behaviour, behavioural techniques, and coping techniques amongst others.
Wendy offers support on a one-on-one mentorship basis and has also created a series of online talks on relevant topics pertaining to the condition of Autism, including, but not limited to: life after diagnosis; Autism and depression, gender differences in Autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance or Defiance.
It is Wendy’s dream that through these platforms and her work, she will enable neurotypical and neurodiverse humans to celebrate life from a different perspective.