28 March 2008

Shining a light on autism

The UN has declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day and, on this day, people around the world have committed to create awareness for this growing social disorder.

On February 28, 2008 the United Nations declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. On this day, a large group of people around the world have committed to do their best to create awareness for this growing social disorder.

Says Gerhard Pieterse, Executive Director of Autism Western Cape, the Cape Town based non-profit organisation: “The current internationally acknowledged statistics are that 1 in 158 people are affected by autism, however latest UK research indicates 1 in 86. From this we can extrapolate that more than 500,000 people in SA are on the autistic spectrum”.

Cause still unknown
Autism is found as a neurological difference to occur in four times as many boys than girls and is the most frequently occurring of all childhood neurological disorders. First described and noted by Leo Kanner in 1943, the cause of this spectrum disorder is still not known.

People with autism, due to the altered chemistry and functioning within the brain, literally cannot fully understand other people’s emotions, reactions and the complexity of social relationships. This results in unusual and often very demanding behaviour and varies in symptoms, severity and impact. Each person with autism presents themselves differently.

Not enough public awareness
Says Pieterse: “Ernie Els recently spoke out about his son and for this, we commend him. It is imperative that public awareness is enhanced regarding what it is like for an autistic person in our world”.

Autism spectrum disorder
Says Felicity Nelsen, the mother of an 18 year old high functioning autistic daughter, Mikayla: ”So few people understand the concept. For the most part, autistic people range from really low functioning to high functioning, hence the term spectrum disorder. What I have learnt with Mikalya is that it’s not about what they can do, it’s about what they can’t do. They see a part of something, never the whole. As a family, it can be heartbreaking to understand that we don’t have any real insight into what that person feels, sees, hears or thinks. It’s a constant learning curve that has to be embraced and the reality is that education is vital for communities and society as a whole to better support autistic individuals”.

DJ Nick E Louder, who is hosting a fundraising evening with the Ku De Ta venue in Edward Street, Tygervalley, Cape Town on World Autism Day adds: “It’s easy for people to ignore what they don’t understand, but until you are faced with it you can’t see the hard problems autistic people deal with and the pain it causes for their families. This is why I feel very strongly about getting this event into the public eye as this spectrum disorder does not seem to be on the decline, so we need to do what we can and a big noise about it now!”

Additional services and education required
Concludes Cecil Reed, Deputy Headmaster of the Vera School for Autistic Learners: “We have experienced a rapid increase in assessments over the last three years at Vera school. Currently we assess up to 60 children per year. The capacity of schools specialising in Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Western Cape is limited to accommodate about 160 children. There is a definite need to develop additional services and to be able to provide quality education based on the unique needs of the individual child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder”.

For more information on autism, visit: or contact Autism Western Cape on 021 556 2600.

For media queries contact:
Nicole Capper 021 461 9244/073 148 3561

For comment contact:
Autism Western Cape Gerhard Pieterse 021 557 3573


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