Cape mom starts NGO dedicated to her two autistic sons
Liesel Gaffley was shattered when her eldest son, Alexander Gaffley, 6, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, and dedicated as much time as she could to his needs.
“We realised at 18 months that there was something wrong with Alex: he just changed and was no longer making eye-contact with us and had stopped talking. Even now he doesn’t use full sentences when speaking, simply using one word to refer to things he wants or needs,” she said.
In September 2016, Gaffley started her NGO, called the Alexander Foundation, in order to raise awareness about autism.
“I give talks at events once a month about mental health and sell T-shirts and key rings to help raise funds for the NGO and for other organisations that help kids with autism,” she said.
“These talks are really important for me because I’ve suffered with depression since I was a teenager and it all just became too much for me when my youngest son, Adam, 4, was also diagnosed with autism.”
Alex has mild autism and is currently non-verbal, while Adam has a higher level of functioning and has delayed speech.
“They’re very different children - Adam is very social, and his brother is quite an introvert,” Liesl said.
Alex is at Alpha School in Woodstock, a learning institution that provides training and education for children with autism. “Recently, the school decided to start having classes for younger children and so Adam - who is at crèche - will start attending classes at the Alpha in October.”
Gaffley said that she and her husband, Riccardo Gaffley, processed the news of the two boys having autism in very different ways.
“While I went into overdrive mode, my husband needed time to process everything that was going on in our lives as a family,” she said.
“We refer to Alex as pre-verbal because we still have hopes that he’ll speak one day. My husband is still very hopeful that Adam will one day be able to attend a main- stream school.”
Gaffley said a big challenge parents of children with autism often face is a lack of support from family members.
“There’ also a lot of education and awareness that needs to take place about the condition,” she said.
Gaffley is writing a children’s book about autism.@TheCapeArgus