Autism Western Cape (previously the Society for Autistic Children) was founded in 1967 and is a non-discriminating, non-profit organization focused on the needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their parents and caregivers. We strive to increase public awareness and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders. We are focused on provision of support, counselling and advisory services, early intervention awareness, advocacy, training, capacity building and skills transfer for parents, caregivers, teachers, Early Childhood Development practitioners and other professionals. We offer post diagnosis counselling and workshops to parents whose children have been diagnosed with Autism as well as support, information and advisory services to anyone who requires them.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder is a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain and impacts on the development of social interaction and communication skills. Symptoms are present before the age of three. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that changes over the lifespan. Autism is found throughout the world, and affects all population groups equally across social class and ethnic differences. Four times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with autism. The number of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder has increased significantly. The Department of Health reported an estimated 500% increase in the diagnosis in the Western Cape, with on average ten children being diagnosed at State Hospitals on a weekly basis. This excludes children who are being diagnosed in private practice.
Global statistics confirm that one in 88 children are affected by Autism, which suggests that there are many other children and families living with this disability in the Western Cape. Currently there are only two Autism specific educational facilities and five LSEN schools with autism specific units within their schools, which together accommodate less than 300 children. There are long waiting lists for all of these facilities and it can take several years from diagnosis to get a placement.
Autism Western Cape runs an established family support and advisory service at the Neuro-developmental Clinics at Red Cross Children’s and Tygerberg Hospitals. Parents are offered post-diagnosis support, advice and counseling as well as given brochures and information. Their details are also captured in our database for later invitation to the various workshops we offer. Working in partnership with the Department of Social Development, Autism Western Cape offers a programme of “Diagnosis What Now?” workshops for parents when they first receive the diagnosis and have been referred to the placement waiting lists. We also offer counseling and play therapy training at our resource centre in Mowbray. Here, clients can receive counseling in a calm, safe and quiet environment which we have found to be beneficial for both the parents/caregivers and the children. Despite our best efforts, our organisation is facing human resource and financial constraints which are inhibiting our efforts to reach all the areas that we are supposed to service. We also have an outreach programme in Khayelitsha which offers support and assistance to the families in the surrounding area. Every second week, we hold a workshop for parents and educators on various topics such as teaching danger, toilet training, sensory issues etc. We also run a support group every two weeks for existing and new parents.