Raising a child with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) places enormous demands on a family, and no one knows this better than single mother Dineo Mosiane, from North West.
When Mosiane gave birth to her son, Kitso, she had big dreams for him, like enrolling him at a good school and making sure he got a good start in life.
But she had to rethink her plans when her son was diagnosed with ASD after he turned two.
Kitso needed medical attention when she noticed he did not respond to communication from others and couldn’t communicate.
“He would bite me and point at things when he was hungry. When I couldn’t quite make out what he wanted he got angry and ran around the house crying” says Mosiane.
This month autism has been receiving attention as the world observes April as autism awareness month. Awareness Day is observed on April 2 every year. This month the focus is on the hurdles people with autism, and their caregivers face every day.
The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) highlighted that autism is found across all countries, ethnic groups and socio-economic classes, affecting about 1-2% of the global population.
In many affluent societies, ASD is usually diagnosed by the time the child is three-years-old, as the symptoms are seen early on in a child’s development and behaviour - the way that they play, learn, speak or behave, particularly in a social context. It is diagnosed three to four times more often in boys than girls.
There are no typical biological or physical symptoms of ASD, and so screening and diagnosis are made clinically on the basis of detailed developmental history, behavioural observation, and using specifically-designed assessment tools.
It’s now six years since Kitso was diagnosed and his behaviour has improved due to therapy.
His mother has had to come to terms with his condition and tryto provide all the resources he needs in order for him to live a self-regulated life.
SASOP member Dr Wendy Duncan, president of the South African Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (SA-ACAPAP), says ASD was previously thought of as occurring only in western industrialised countries, “but we now know this not to be true”.
She said early diagnosis and intervention were the keys to equipping the child and their family with the skills and resources needed to ensure the best possible quality of life because there is remarkable development that takes place in early childhood.
Reyan Abrahams, a tutor from Action 4 Autism who specialises in working with adults and children, said there is not one answer or way to deal with people with autism.
“Like we are all different, they are different as well and should be treated individually. Mountains of patience are required.”
He said the aim should be aiding independence and building confidence by training the child to brush their teeth and get dressed, before moving on to more complex activities like working with money.