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City marks Autism Day


The iconic Nelson Mandela Bridge in Braamfontein was enveloped in blue light on Thursday night as Johannesburg joined other cities and the rest of the world in marking the United Nations’ World Autism Day and kick-starting Autism Month.

Other iconic physical structures around the world that were turned blue to mark the day were the Pyramids in Egypt, and the Empire State Building and One World Trade Centre in New York.

This year is the eighth anniversary of Autism Month, which seeks to shine the spotlight on autistic people and create awareness of the condition.

Autism results from a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. It is characterised by impairments in social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and restricted, repetitive behaviour, interests and activities. It is believed to stem from a genetic predisposition triggered by environmental factors. Statistics show that one in 99 children is affected by autism.

On Thursday night, City of Johannesburg Speaker Councillor Connie Bapela and other City officials were joined by representatives of Autism South Africa, FEED and the Love Foundation at the Inner City Recreation Park in Bree Street to switch on the blue light on the Mandela Bridge. The occasion was also attended by Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi. Councillor Bapela urged residents to show their support for people with autism.

“We need to care for and support those who are differently abled. We must conscientise the rest of the city on the needs of people living with autism and how we can help them live more comfortable lives.”

MEC Lesufi said the Gauteng government would build more schools for children living with the condition. There are at present only two such schools in the province.

“Our children should not be different from other children. The resources they need they have to get. They should get the support and attention. There should be no child who is left out because of their challenges,” the MEC said.

Sandra Usswald, Director of Autism South Africa, said she was encouraged by MEC Lesufi’s pledge to build more schools for learners with autism Sumaya Babamia, a speech therapist and member of FEED, a non-governmental organisation that feeds and educates underprivileged learners, spoke about her autistic eight-year-old son.

“For autistic people, the world is an intimidating place. They have special needs and because of their speech impediments, they find it hard to communicate those needs. For parents of autistic children, this is a long and difficult road,” Babamia said.

The City will roll out an education campaign in its seven regions throughout April. This will culminate in a fun race/walk on May 3 to raise funds for Autism South Africa.

For more information on autism, go to