CHILDREN with autism have had to wait years due to long waiting lists at schools. They have had to start school years later. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA)
CHILDREN with autism have had to wait years due to long waiting lists at schools. They have had to start school years later. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA)

Lack of autism schools nationally

By Shanice Naidoo Time of article published May 29, 2021

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Cape Town - An Ottery mom has waited four years for feedback from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) regarding the placement of her autistic child.

Sheyaam Joubert said her child was on the waiting list and was attending an independent school.

“There are schools available for exorbitant prices. It has been a rather long journey,” said Joubert.

DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga admitted that there was a backlog.

“A significant amount of work has been done by provincial education departments to ensure that learners are in schools. The number of cases we receive on this category of learners has declined,” said Mhlanga.

The Western Cape currently has four schools which cater for autistic children. Gauteng has the most, with 10, and the Eastern Cape has three. In the Free State, there are no dedicated schools, but there are special needs schools which cater for learners with severe intellectual disability, which admit autistic learners. In KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape there are no dedicated schools. North West also has no dedicated schools, only special needs schools.

“Where possible and feasible, provincial education departments have built dedicated schools for autistic learners. However, where this is not feasible, autistic learners attend special schools, especially schools for learners with severe intellectual disability,” said Mhlanga.

The department said there was a shortage of educators for children with autism.

“Provincial education departments have a dedicated in-service training programme for teachers that are already in the system. The programme equips teachers with skills on specialised areas (of disability). The specialised areas include Braille, South African Sign Language, Autism and other programmes. For autism, approximately 4 800 have been trained to date to teach and support autistic learners,” said Mhlanga.

Autism Western Cape manager Zaida Frank-Ebrahim said school placements had been a struggle for years. She said private institutions were available but too expensive for everyone to access.

“Mainstream school accommodate (children with autism) but need educators for this. Every day our staff get asked to assist with placements. Parents are waiting four to five years for feedback,” said Frank-Ebrahim.

Weekend Argus

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