The City of Johannesburg’s Social and Health Department hosted an autism workshop with medical doctors this week.
The aim of the workshop was to equip doctors to recognise autism when it is presented to them by patients who visit the City’s 81 clinics.
Member of the Mayoral Committee for Health and Social Development Dr Mpho Phalatse, who was the brainchild of the workshop, feels her department has an important role to play in making the lives of people with disability better.
“Doctors need to be equipped to serve the residents better and can be a key point of contact for referrals,” said MMC Phalatse at the workshop.
The workshop was also attended by the National Director of Autism South Africa, Sandy Usswald, who gave an excellent presentation on the history of autism, the symptoms associated with autism, and some of the myths about the condition.
Usswald said autism is lifelong disorder that will affect people differently. Autistic people experience difficulties at different levels in four areas, which are social, imagination, language and communication and sensory. These four areas are known as the quartet of impairment.
Some of the signs that a child might be autistic include little awareness of others, self-injuring behaviour such as head banging and sudden laughing and crying for no reason.
Mary Moeketsi, who is the Regional Development Officer at Autism South Africa, talked about being a parent of an autistic child. She touched on how difficult it was for her raising her child. When her son was young, she struggled to get the correct diagnosis for her his behaviour.
According to Usswald, only 10% of people with autism are correctly diagnosed in South Africa. Mary’s son was incorrectly diagnosed as mentally ill.
Moeketsi’s story represents the thousands of South Africans who are getting the wrong diagnosis for their autistic children. Due to a lack of information and stigma, many autistic children go undiagnosed and treated.
According to Usswald, “South Africa has a few autism specialist and many children can wait for years before getting the right diagnosis”. This is alarming because early intervention can improve the development of autistic children.
Emile Gouws, who is a 25-year-old man with autism, is an example of the importance of early diagnosis and intervention. Despite having autism, Gouws is currently studying towards his master’s degree specialising in autism.
Gouws gave an impressive presentation of what it is like living with autism and the daily challenges he faces. What is clear from listening to his presentation is that autistic people need support with coping with daily life.
As a child, Gouws received occupational and speech therapy, and when his anxiety level rise from sensory overload he makes use of the services of a psychologist.
The City of Johannesburg’s Department of Health and Social Development wants to be at the forefront of creating awareness for autism and other disabilities. The City’s 81 clinics are the first point of contact for many residents seeking medical care and the clinics need to be informed enough to make referrals.