In South Africa 1 in 99 children born each day is affected by autism, which is characterised by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour.
Thursday April 2 marks the eight annual World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) and the Star Academy who assists children based in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, has called on South Africans to support this day by wearing blue.
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Ilana Gerschlowitz, managing director of the Star Academy, which specialises in instructional programmes for child presenting with autism, explained that although there has been progress in treatment, figures indicate an increase in the number of children with autism.
“The increase in the number of children affected may be a result of a broader definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) together with improvements in diagnosis,” said Gerschlowitz.
She said in a statement that WAAD is a significant day as it provides an opportunity for people to understand autism its impact on children and families globally.
How you can show your support
"We encourage children, parents, people in business, the private sector and at school to participate and show solidarity on the day. By wearing something blue or sharing the global connection of lighting up in blue, we can all make South Africa part of this global initiative which provides a powerful message of support and hope for a better future through acknowledgement of the day,” she said.
Gerschlowitz noted that autism signs all generally begin before a child is three years old. However, she added that there is evidence that with the right treatment, children with autism do not necessarily have to be subjected to autism as a lifelong condition.
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“Autism is a treatable medical condition and recovery is possible,” Gerschlowitz said.
She said many individuals on the autism spectrum experience medical issues including gastrointestinal problems, immune system dysfunction, and metabolic abnormalities.
"For this reason, children on the autism spectrum often improve their symptoms on medications such as Cortizone and immunomodulators, rather than from psychiatric medication which is often prescribed as a first line treatment for these children,” said Gerschlowitz.
What the ABA is about
“Furthermore, they respond very well to many interventions including nutritional support, restricted diets, and specifically designed educational programs, together with Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) instruction.”
The ABA method of instruction, recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics and the US Surgeon General, uses positive reinforcement as a key principle and has been empirically proven to be the most effective method for treating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
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ABA is also a founding principle of the Star Academy whose facilities also help children in Ghana and Zimbabwe.
Gerschlowitz said that businesses, municipalities and governments around the world also play a vital role in creating awareness around the condition of autism by lighting up significant buildings and locations in blue light.
(Image credit: AutismSpeaks Canada)
Some of the iconic landmarks which have honoured the day by lighting up in blue include the Empire State Building in New York; Eiffel Tower in Paris; The Leaning Tower of Pisa; Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Mercedes-Benz Arena – Shanghai, China; Chicago’s Willis Tower; the CN Tower in Toronto; Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia; City Halls of Dublin, Switzerland and Portugal; the Serbian National Assembly building in Belgrade; the Polish and Hungarian Parliament Buildings and Palace of Arts.
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