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Dept runs autism acceptance campaign

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The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely impaired

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WORLD Autism Awareness Day was held yesterday, and the focus of the Northern Cape Department of Social Development is on not only awareness but also acceptance of the condition.

Every year the month of April marks World Autism Month and kicks off with the UN sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day. This is the 12th year it is taking place.

“In April we intensify our campaigns and this year we are running various programmes in schools and in the community,” Gamiem Abrahams, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Social Development, said.

He said that they were currently running anti-bullying campaigns in schools, especially with regards to differently-abled pupils.

“We don’t like to call those affected by autism disabled, they are differently-abled. If you see what some of these kids can do, it is nothing short of remarkable.”

Abrahams added that they are working closely with non-profit organisations (NPOs) especially in schools to intensify the awareness and acceptance campaigns.

He added that the department is also funding various autism campaigns run by Autism SA.

“We are hoping that the stigma attached to autism will be eradicated. This is especially prevalent in our rural areas. When we run campaigns in these areas we encourage the community to bring out children who have autism. A lot of people still believe that those who have autism are bewitched. We need to break that way of thinking,” Abrahams said.

Currently, the department is running an autism programme at the Beaconsfield Library.

Meanwhile, the autism department at Jannie Brink Special School will be holding its annual Light It Up Blue Walk to create awareness around autism on Saturday, April 13, at the school.

Registration for the walk – over 1km, 2.5km or 5km – will start at 7am. The school will also be holding an awareness campaign at the Diamond Pavilion Mall on Saturday. Stickers for R10, magnets for R20 and T-shirts for R100 will be available at both events.

According to the SA government website, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.

ASD is a developmental disability and people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.

The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely impaired.

Some people with ASD need high support (a lot of help and intensive intervention) while others need low support (less help and less intensive intervention).

ASD is thought to have a genetic component which results in atypical neurological development and functioning. A lot of research is being done to try and find the cause of autism, but as yet there are no definite answers.

There is agreement, however, that autism is no one’s fault. It is not a parent’s fault that their child has been born with autism.

It is not a psychological or emotional disorder. It is not the result of bad parenting and children with ASD do not choose to misbehave. Misbehaviour is often a reaction to the environment and are expressions of the difficulties people with ASD experience.

– Michelle Cahill