There is only one school in the Eastern Cape specifically for children with autism – Quest School in Port Elizabeth.
Eastern Cape education department spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said an additional 342 schools in the province had limited autism focused classes.
But most of these schools had long waiting lists, said Sandy Usswald, the national director of Autism SA.
As a result a child can wait for up to five years before they see the inside of a classroom.
“Sometimes the waiting lists have about 90 children on them. There are many cases of parents taking their children to doctors, getting a diagnosis but when they try to get their child into a school they are told they must wait years,” Usswald said.
And it is often the case that private facilities tend to be expensive and therefore not accessible to everyone.
Mtima also warned that the cases in which parents had been promises special autism facilities which were not delivered tended to occur in private schools.
Parents often resorted to hiring caregivers to look after the child, Usswald said. “Many of these children may never get the kind of care they need and as a result may never develop.”
Mtima said the long waiting lists were often a result of parents failing to register their children on time. Also the fact that parents were becoming more aware. “In [past] times, parents with children who had learning or physical disabilities normally kept their kids at home but now parents are heeding our call and starting to take their kids to school – which impacts pupil numbers.”
Sometimes in communities where knowledge of modern medicine was lacking autistic children suffered unnecessarily or were kept out of school due to superstition.
“In some communities, there are beliefs that when the child presents with symptoms of autism the mother may have brought a curse on to the family or some believe that the ancestors are angry with the parents and have chosen to punish them with a sick child,” Usswald said.
“We have come across many such cases in numerous communities across the country.”