We met 25 year old Koki Sibisi at his home in Yeoville, Johannesburg. He has Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of Autism. This mental condition makes it difficult for him to direct his thoughts in a clear and coherent manner. He repeats words, in sometimes meaningless ways, as he constructs his fragmented sentences. This was obvious when we asked him who his friends are.
‘The ones I work with? It’s Constable Willer, it’s him, we can talk to him. I’ve got his number if you don’t mind that’¦ how we… the problem instead that’¦ you must talk to Captain Mtshali’¦ I think Constable Willer, he’s got Captain Mtshali’s number. He can give you if you don’t mind to’¦ to ‘¦ we can’¦ I don’t know’¦ I know’¦ if you don’t mind to’¦ I can give you Contable Willer’s number if you don’t mind to take them. He can give you’¦ he’s got captain’s numbers, Mtshali’s numbers. I work with him, Constable Willer’, he said.
Koki is a volunteer at a local South African Police Service (SAPS) station. But, he is convinced that he is employed there. ‘I work at the Yeoville Police Station’, said Koki, proudly.
His mother, Mary Sibisi requested the Superintendent at the police station to place him, after explaining Koki’s condition and his childhood dream of becoming a crime fighter. The Superintendent agreed, on the condition that he will solely be based at the police station, for his own safety. He is so convinced that he is a dedicated ‘policeman’, that he hardly ever misses a shift.
Koki is a diligent person. While talking to him, he got up without any warning to go to the kitchen to wash dishes.
When asked about his condition, he answered: ‘I’m aware that I’m living with Autism, but I don’t understand it. I perform all the chores. I clean around the house, I do my washing, I was my takkies’.
His mother, says her son changed schools many times because she and his teachers did not understand why Koki was underperforming. Only recently did she discover the reason.
‘We’ve just found out last year, that it’s Asperger’s (syndrome). It’s one of the conditions of Autism. We don’t understand it and a lot of teachers do not understand it. They (teachers) saw him as a child that is argumentative or bully, but the truth is that he is not bully at all’, said Mary.
As a result of Koki’s poor performance at school, he was forced to drop out at grade two. But his enthusiasm for police work over-shadowed his low grade when he recalled, off the top of his head, the telephone numbers of the local police station where he volunteers. Slowly, slowly he spells out the number.
‘Nine’¦.four’¦..three’¦.one’¦.one’¦.five’¦.one’, said Koki.
Nini Khumalo, a Special Education Needs Teacher at the Key School in Johannesburg, which caters for children with Autism, says had there been early interventions in Koki’s childhood, life could have been better.
‘At an early age, Koki should have been in a school or a program which could have taught him how to cope with the environment around him and equip him with basic skills, such as how to calculate change. He should have been put in a class with a skilled teacher, able to show Koki what ‘one’ means and when we talk about ‘two’, how much that is’, said Khumalo.