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Local experts estimate that one in about 58 South African children (1.72 percent) have autism. Not enough is being done to help them flourish. We need proper care for children with autism. 

Founder of Knowing Autism, Wendy Bowley, was only diagnosed with autism at the age of 44, two years after receiving news of her 11-year-old son’s diagnosis.

She has dedicated her life to changing the narrative towards autism and people who are on the autism spectrum. 

“For the most part, the educational system in South Africa does not really cater for autism,” says Bowley. The few schools that do exist have many requirements. 

Find out more about autism and how to understand it.

What is Autism?

“Autism is a developmental disorder which means that as a child grows and develops their needs change. They may have more complex learning difficulties than other children on the spectrum. The sad reality is that these children often fall out of the education system because of a lack of well-trained and experienced educators and staff,” says Bowley. 

“Many children are going undiagnosed. They suffer within the schooling system. Our jails and psychiatric hospitals are full of children and adults that have undiagnosed autism.” We could provide them with better quality of life with earlier intervention, she says.

Bowley adds: “Children are often bullied at school for being different. There is a dire need raise awareness, provide education and understanding. But, we also have to train our teachers and parents. We need to make the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) assessments available to all those who need them. This will result in early diagnosis and proper care.”

Read a father’s story about loving a son with autism.


The clinical and intervention support required for any child to flourish will differ from child to child.  Most South African children will have limited (if any) access to suitable support. 

Professor Christopher Gillberg is an international authority on autism. He suggests some children only get support if they also have an intellectual disability. These and many other factors complicate both awareness of, and access to, all the different autism-related supports that many of our children require.” 

Signs your child may need an ASD assessment:

Does your child:

  • fail to make eye contact 
  • struggle to respond to their name or the sound of a familiar voice 
  • struggle to follow objects visually 
  • fail to point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate 
  • struggle to ask for help or make other basic requests
  • struggle to speak in any form of language by the age of two

Children on the autism Spectrum do not respond with animated facial expressions. They also struggle to read and understand facial expressions.

Knowing Autism is an organisation (soon to be registered as an NPO) that aims to educate and raise awareness about Autism in South Africa. The earlier the intervention, the better for the child.