Nomakhosazana Dick

Greater understanding and early diagnosis will make the world of difference to people living with autism.

That is the unequivocal message from two Eastern Cape organisations working around the clock to improve the lives of those on the spectrum.

This year’s SPAR Women’s Challenge is recognising Gqeberha-based Autism Eastern Cape and the Umphanda Foundation for Autism for empowering those in their care and removing stigmas around the condition.

A portion of the funds raised by the iconic road race at Pollok Beach in Nelson Mandela Bay on May 28 will be donated to the NGOs.

For Autism Eastern Cape the financial injection could not come at a better time after recently having to close its early intervention centre, which necessitated people in the programme to be placed at Aurora and other facilities.

“We are so grateful that Aurora has been able to help. All our equipment and educational material went to them, and another set of people working closely with their church is offering similar help,” said Autism EC chairperson Joan Jorritsma.

“It’s wonderful that we are getting this support from SPAR as we would like to take these programmes forward. The structure, staffing, buildings and training are all at Aurora, so we are working hard to expand services to children with autism.”

Umphanda Foundation founder Nomakhosazana Dick said monies received from the Women’s Challenge would help it in its quest to have its own facility.

Nomakhosazana Dick

Nomakhosazana Dick of the Umphanda Foundation, which is a beneficiary of the SPAR Women’s Challenge. Photo: Full Stop Communications

Both women believe more needs to be done for society to gets to grips with autism and its complexities.

“The more we try to understand how people with autism function and work and think, the better for everyone,” said Jorritsma.

“We need to learn why they behave the way they do and respect that. By doing so we will be able to help them on their specific journeys.”

If parents felt their children had not reached the correct developmental level, they should consult a GP, paediatrician, psychologist or social worker immediately, she advised.

“It always comes back to early diagnosis. I know a person in her fifties who despite being exceptionally bright always wondered why people thought she was strange.

“When she was finally diagnosed, she was so relieved because she could then say to people, ‘If I behave like this, please don’t worry. It’s because I’m on the spectrum’.”

One of Autism EC’s projects is offering support to a group of young people calling themselves the PE Spectrumites. They meet monthly for social functions or discussions.

“Here they can talk openly about their terrible anxiety or their need to hold their pets for comfort. With the difficulty of us losing our school, it’s tremendous they can now have our focus,” said Jorritsma.

Dick is another Samaritan fighting the good fight.

Her foundation specialises in early intervention, sensory integration and skills development among children, with four teachers guiding them through the different programmes.

“You deal with many things when it comes to an autistic child,” said Dick. “You need to work with the child holistically and small wins are so important.

“If you love them, they will show you love too. But it’s not everyone who can do that.

“You need to understand that children might be fussy eaters or require supplements. That’s why this condition is so complex, and I really want to say thank you to SPAR for helping us in this way.”

SPAR EC advertising manager Roseann Shadrach said the retailer’s goal through supporting the cause was to make a difference in the lives of both children and adults.

“We took our national We’re for Smiles campaign and adopted it for our beneficiaries to create Forever Smiles. These organisations don’t just provide once-off assistance but are invested long term in the people they help.”