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Autism and your child

Online since 10.04.2018 • Filed under Health • From Seventeen - April to June 2018 page(s) 30
Autism and your child

With over a million people in South Africa currently diagnosed with autism – often late in life – it’s important for parents to understand what to look out for and what help is available to them and their children. Sandy Usswald, national director at Autism South Africa (a NPO dedicated to assisting those living with the disability), shares some helpful advice


If your child has undiagnosed autism it can make your parenting journey difficult and frustrating. The symptoms, which often manifest between 18 and 24 months, make it important to know what to look for and how to help your child. ‘Because autism is a neuro-development disorder, it affects the growth and structure of the brain,’ Sandy explains. ‘Autistic people communicate, interact, behave and learn differently – depending on the autism’s severity. For example, a child may manifest delayed, abnormal or absent speech and/or language at an age when he should be communicating. Your child may also seem deaf or unable to hear clearly as he doesn’t react when spoken to. An attachment to peculiar objects or playing with toys in an inappropriate manner are other signs.’ While we don’t understand its underlying cause, science has linked autism to a combination of both genes and environment. Symptoms can be displayed early on, but in South Africa most children are only diagnosed around the age of six when applying for primary school. ‘As a parent, you’re best placed to spot the early signs of autism in your child,’ Sandy notes. ‘Because you spend the most time with your children, you’re better placed to notice behaviours and ‘quirks’ that a paediatrician wouldn’t recognise during a consultation. While it’s important to rely on your child’s paediatrician for expert advice, never discount your own instincts, observation and parental experience.’


However, most important is not to blame yourself or believe that this is something you have directly contributed to. ‘Many parents believe autism is a result of something they have done incorrectly in terms of parenting. This is not the case at all. The key is to empower yourself with knowledge about the disability and to seek the help you need.’ Sandy notes that it’s also not something your family needs to face alone. ‘There are many well-equipped schools and centres that can help you and your child on your journey – ensuring they’re able to lead healthy, happy lives.’ For more information, visit

Seventeen - April to June 2018

Seventeen - April to June 2018

This article was featured on page 30 of Babys and Beyond Seventeen - April to June 2018 .

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Meg Faure
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