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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.

Education as a barrier

A 2013 study from the South African Medical Journal found that there are only nine public schools for children with ASD.

This means an estimated 135 000 children on the spectrum are not receiving the specialised education that they need.

 This means that the choice is schools is narrowed down extremely. Secondly, there is a minimal availability of special needs services in formal education. There is also a lack of appropriate educational material resources. 

There are private institutions that cater to children with ASD. However, this is not financially viable for most people. The few public schools that do accommodate children with ASD are overstretched and still not accessible.

A father speaks out about learning to understand the world of his autistic son – read here

The fact that certain schools still do not admit children with ASD or other learning disabilities contradicts the promises of our Constitution. The growing prevalence of children with ASD in South Africa is clearly a public health crisis?

Raising awareness 

With this in mind, autism social transformer, Wendy Bowley has launched Knowing Autism.

Knowing autism is a community-driven platform that aims to raise awareness about SA’s ASD public health crisis.  It facilitates candid and supportive dialogue around ASD. 

Bowley has also launched a series of informative webinars as well as mentorship services targeted at supporting those mitigating ASD. Bowley, 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.

Bowley offers support on a one-on-one mentorship basis. She has also created a series of online talks on relevant topics including, but not limited to: life after diagnosis; autism and depression, gender differences in autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance or Defiance.

 It is Bowley’s dream that through these platforms and her work, she will enable neurotypical and neurodiverse humans to celebrate life from a different perspective.

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