by Vezi Silwanyana

The blog post below is an article from our launch issue of the Art of Superwoman Magazine. Learn more here.

As the festive season nears and plans for 2021 are set in motion, there is a group of children that need special adjustments for the December holidays and the start of a new school year.  These are kids that are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) also commonly known as Autism.

What is Autism

Have you ever noticed a child of speaking age that is non-verbal (i.e. does not talk), a child that rocks in his/her chair and flaps their hands in front of the face and makes high pitched squeals?  A child that plays with the same toy in a repetitive way, struggles to make eye contact and is extremely sensitive to noise?  Although these mannerisms do not necessarily confirm that a child has autism, children that have autism typically show one or more of these behaviours. 

It is a complex developmental condition and every child experiences different symptoms whilst the cause of this condition is unfortunately unknown. 

ASD is usually first diagnosed in childhood with many of the most-obvious signs presenting around 2-3 years of age, but some children with autism develop normally until toddlerhood when they stop acquiring or lose previously gained skills.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) USA, 1 in 59 children are estimated to have autism.  ASD is also three to four times more common in boys than in girls, and many girls with the condition exhibit less obvious signs compared to boys.  Though autism is a lifelong condition, many children diagnosed with ASD can go on to live independent, productive, and fulfilling lives. 

Festive Season – Tips and Tricks

Having a child that has autism presents several challenges in everyday living. Although every child is different, it can be complex to navigate the busy holiday season for children with Autism. 

Some parents choose to stay at home and not visit Christmas festivity hotspots, shopping malls or holiday destinations. This is due to various environmental and social challenges that a child can face if they are out of their “normal environment”. 

This begs the question, what does a parent that does not want to stay indoors do? Unfortunately, there is no a “one-size-fits-all” answer but there are some tips and tricks that one can try.

  1. If possible, take your child once or twice (or a few times) to the location that you would like to visit. This may help your child to acclimatise to this ‘new’ environment thus be less anxious when the actual trip takes place and this should be done on quieter days before the festivities begin.
  2. Should you child suffer from sensory overload (the inability to regulate sound, smell, touch, taste, sight), one can consider buying noise cancelling headphones, sensory toys to play with like a rubber toy they can chew on or a toy they can squeeze.
  3. Selective eating is another challenge therefore pack food that your child enjoys eating if you are going to a restaurant. Similarly, if travelling long distances, freeze the same food and ensure you have adequate amount of food for the entire trip. 
  4. Some children will gravitate or only like one specific toy, take this toy with you wherever you go as it will give them a sense of security and serve as a distraction.
  5. Should you choose to stay at home, consider planning activities that your child enjoys in order to keep him/her stimulated. 

Back to School

After weeks of a changed schedule, a child with autism typically needs to be reintroduced to a routine.It is important to reduce leisure and screen time while you prepare them for the upcoming school routine.

What if you are looking for a school

A common challenge is finding a suitable school for children with autism. There are a few schools in South Africa that enrol children with autism or are specifically designed for ASD children. Schools that are specifically for autistic children are generally unaffordable to a middle-class family let alone a family that is barely getting by.  Should you be looking for a school here are a few questions to ask:

  1. What program/curriculum does the school offer?
  2. What interventions do they offer? 
  3. Do they offer additional therapy i.e. speech, physio and occupational? 
  4. Do they have a sensory room – to address sensory issues that your child may have? 
  5. The cleanliness of the school is very important.
  6. The qualification of teachers, facilitators and assistant teachers. 
  7. How old is the school?
  8. What is their level of experience in teaching children with autism? 
  9. School fees. 

Most importantly, trust your gut with everything that has to do with your child. No one knows your child more than you do. To people who are not on this journey, be sensitised that not all children are the same.