Thousands of children with disabilities are out of school owing to unequal access to schools that support their needs. Although government officials pat themselves on the back for fostering inclusive education, the situation on the ground is far from being ideal, particularly for learners with autism. Most schools in South Africa are not equipped to deal with the condition, especially because of the complex nature autism presents itself in affected people. By virtue of it being a spectrum condition, no two individuals with autism have the same challenges. For that reason, a lower teacher – pupil ratio is necessary to support the high learner requirements of the learners. A visit to some schools that claim to support inclusive education would show such amenities as wheelchair ramps and even braille textbooks. There would be nothing in place for children with intellectual disabilities, because not much work is being done to find out how they can be supported in the schooling system. This necessitates the establishment of institutions such as Autism Connect, so that no child ever must be left behind based on how they were created. Autism is a very expensive condition to have in any family, considering the interventions that are needed such as speech, occupational and sometimes physiotherapy.
Because of the high bills that come with the condition, most families have no option but to keep their children locked up in homes, because without therapy and medication, they would be difficult to manage and cause disruptions in the functioning of their families. Such circumstances open a window for the abuse of the children due to their families’ lack of coping mechanisms. Some parents are even forced to quit their jobs to care for their children with autism after finding nowhere else to place them. Not only does this bring poverty to the family, but it also causes psychological distress for parents and might result in the resent of the child. Autism Connect is a place for families affected by autism to call home. Children with autism should not be written off as they can become contributing members of society, with the right kind of support. In countries where the system adequately caters for affected individuals, autism is not a barrier to learning or full participation in the working environment. This is what we aspire to achieve at Autism Connect. We would like to ensure that all children that pass through our centre do not fall through the cracks, but have their strengths nurtured. A person that is not educated will forever be a burden to the government, their family and society at large. Investment in the education of autistic people is needed to avert a bigger crisis in future.