Children with autism’s struggle for education in Limpopo

Children with autism’s struggle for education in LimpopoA lack of understanding about autism in schools is a concern, says one Limpopo Province mom (File photo)

A mother’s endless fight to ensure that her son has an opportunity to go to school, with a dearth of options in the entire province.

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A mother of a child living with autism, Rebecca Modiba, says she has been struggling to find a school that’s suited for her son. They’ve had to endure waiting lists and calls to find awareness or support programmes in Limpopo. This is because there are very few schools in their hometown of Polokwane that accommodate learners like Modiba’s son.

Modiba’s nine-year-old son was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old. He has been hopping from one school to another because schools were couldn’t deal with his special needs.

According to the US-based medical research organisation Mayo Clinic, autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD, is a group of complex disorders of the brain’s development that reduces a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. 

“When he was born in June 2010 the doctor advised us to see an occupational therapist and we started as soon as possible because early intervention is key,” said the 31-year-old mother. 

One school for autistic learners

The earlier interventions such as occupational and speech therapy start the better. According to a  2013 study published in Brain & Development, parents who are able to reduce behaviour problems in their autistic children cope better and have less stress as a result.

But finding a suitable school to build on the early intervention has been challenging for Modiba. According to the Limpopo education department, there’s only one public school dedicated to learners  with autism in the entire province. Private education is not only costly but also demanding for parents. 

“When you start taking the child to pre-school they don’t understand what autism is. I don’t know how many pre-schools we changed. Some schools will be surprised by his behaviour and I was told they will not be able to handle him. During that time, he was three years and still using a nappy,” she remembers.

The experience has been devastating for Modiba and her son. She once found his son playing alone outside while other learners were in the classrooms.

 “I found him on the trampoline and when I asked why was he there, I was told he loves playing there and when I got out, a guy who was working at the garden approached me and told that my child plays there the whole day with another autistic child, because they don’t know how to handle them,” she tells OurHealth

Years of waiting

Waiting lists to get into an autism school can stretch up to three years, she says, and the financial costs are high. Modiba is employed,  however, it’s still difficult to meet the requirements some schools have. 

“I remember I went to a special school in Nirvana, Polokwane and I was told that for him to be admitted I must bring a nanny who would look after him while in class, for in case he starts being hyperactive and starts running around. That means you must pay for school fees and also a nanny at the same time. So that also bring financial implications in this regard.” 

He was finally enrolled in 2018 at one of the special schools in Polokwane after three years of waiting. But Modiba still pays for after-care while she’s at work and is satisfied with her son’s progress. – Health-e News