Call for state to do more for those with autism

Parents and organisations with placards marching down Darling Street, Cape Town.

Improved government support for people with autism was the rallying cry of those who marched in the rain in the heart of Cape Town last week.

The Autism Western Cape (AWC) non-profit from Woodstock organised the march by more than 50 people, including parents of children with autism. They marched from Hanover Street, District Six to Parliament.

“Autism is not a choice, acceptance is”, “No Child left behind”, “Improve the sector”, “We deserve equality”, were some of the messages on the placards they carried.

AWC managing director Mduduzi Dube said people with autism should have the right to basic services.

“Right now, the government is not funding us. We are asking them to research to find out what resources and infrastructure is needed, so that they can fund the appropriate organisations that are working with the autism sector.

“We would like people with autism to participate in society like everyone else.”

Waiting lists for autism-specific schools were too long and some of the schools only accepted autistic children with specific needs, he said.

“If their support needs level is too high, they will not be accepted into the autism-specific schools, if their support level is too low they will also not be accepted into autism-specific schools.”

They want student teachers to have more practical knowledge about autism; more schools with appropriately trained staff for those with autism; and more funding for work readiness programmes.

“I am marching for my son’s rights, it’s an emotional roller coaster for us as family for him not being placed in an autism-specific school,” said Lee-Ann Nash, of Retreat, whose 14-year-old son, Jude, has autism.

Melissa Terry, of Steenberg, was marching for her daughter, Chelsea, 10. “I would like my daughter to be able to go to any public place without being judged for being different, and I would also like better education for her,” she said.

Celeste Esau, 41, of Manenberg, has autism and said: “I am marching because I want the minister to know that they need to adjust their policies to be inclusive for the needs of people with autism.”

Speaker of the provincial legislature Masizole Mnqasela supported the autism march. “The AWC has asked me to be their ambassador to support them and raise awareness and funds for autism,” he said.

“We want to ensure that there is an environment for people who have autism not to become victims, because there is no proper education and infrastructure.”

Parliamentary liaison officer for the Department of Social Development Jessica Longwe received a memorandum of agreement presented by the marchers.

The national Department of Social Development did not respond to questions by the time of publication.

From left, are Ursula Petersen from Autism Connect, and parents, Lee-Ann Nash and Melissa Terry.
Parliamentary liaison officer for the Department of Social Development Jessica Longwe signs a memorandum of agreement, while from back left volunteer Thulani Dube, AWC member Zaida Frank and AWC managing director Mduduzi Dube look on.
Volunteers for AWC, Tanya Adams, left, and Tarren Varrie took part in the march.