Action in Autism founding member,
Ms Liza Aziz.
UKZN Lecturer in the Discipline of Public Health Medicine at the School of Nursing and Public Health, Dr Tsholofelo Mhlaba, participated in the monthly Action in Autism Screening and Diagnostic Clinic for children with autism from rural and impoverished households.
Parents with autistic children and children with special needs attended the clinic from different parts of KwaZulu Natal to consult two volunteer doctors – Specialist Psychiatrist, Dr S Salduker and Paediatric Neurologist, Dr V Govender.
The monthly clinic at the Action in Autism Centre in Sydenham, Durban, is run by Salduker who co-opts the support of other specialists in the field.
According to the organisation’s founding member, Ms Liza Aziz, the free monthly diagnostic and assessment clinic has already dealt with more than 400 children, from as far afield as Jozini, Highflats and Kokstad.
‘It is the first time that many of these children have been screened by a specialist in the field of autism and this service therefore helps many children in the far outlying areas of KwaZulu-Natal,’ she said.
The purpose of the intervention was to diagnose as many children as possible and refer them to the appropriate institutions for further assistance.
Action in Autism is a non-profit organisation established by parents of children with autism to act as a support and fundraising body. The central focus of the organisation is to improve the quality of life for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their caregivers.
‘In KwaZulu Natal there are no schools that cater solely for children with autism and the facilities available are completely inadequate for the vast numbers of children diagnosed. Therefore Action in Autism’s most important goal is to access educational resource and medical support for all people with autism in KwaZulu-Natal,’ said Aziz.
The organisation’s data base has hundreds of desperate parents searching for educational intervention and support for their children. Aziz called on the government to take a more active role in autism; ‘We need more specialist doctors to volunteer to be part of this. More and more children slip through the cracks and are only diagnosed at about age 10 or later.’
Mhlaba said insufficient research was being done on autism and supported efforts for work to be carried out through the centre.
Ms Simlindile Mjoka (28), mother to a 10-year-old autistic girl, said she had not been aware her child had the condition. ‘I thought my daughter was deaf and slow.’
Mjoka enrolled her daughter at the Durban School for the Hearing and Learning impaired last year and it was there that she learned about the clinic.
She took her daughter to the clinic and was referred to the Durban Children’s Hospital for further treatment.
In 2009 the organisation established an Early Learning Intervention Centre and Resource Centre, which aims to build partnerships between people with ASD, their families and the community to provide information, services, learning and research.
The resource centre provides on-going support to families and community members who support people with Autism. ‘It is the only walk-in resource centre in KwaZulu-Natal and provides crucial service to a marginalised, vulnerable sector of society,’ said Aziz.