Suspended from school, at age 2

There are too few autism schools in South Africa

I met Ilse, Noel and Maddie more than a decade ago. These parents had a toddler with a cast on her leg and they weren’t quite sure why she wasn’t making eye contact and didn’t talk. They went from doctor, to specialist… and then finally Maddie was diagnosed as autistic.

Maddie was put into a pre-primary school but was suspended from school within a week. The teachers simply didn’t know how to handle a special needs child like her.

Somewhere along the way and the home-schooling journey Ilse and Noel decided that Maddie was too alone. They then made a plan and started a little 8-kid school. They settled the children 2 at a time over 2 days before taking in the next batch of 2. Then more parents heard about the school and they opened their doors for more children and expanded to 2 properties eventually.

Maddie is now 13. She doesn’t verbally communicate – but has tools to help her communicate. She can interact with strangers. She has some life skills.

Amazing K is a little different from my own kids’ pre-primary school (or playschool if you prefer). The curriculum is different, but the same. Instead of third-party extracurriculars everything is done by the staff at Amazing K. The kids have to learn to be social – and that is an autism thing. Outside group play and group activities is a big thing.

Since I started working with Amazing K I have done research and read every article written by Ilse from Amazing K. I realised in all of this that:

  1. There are too few autism schools
  2. There are no primary or high schools or further learning available to autistic children; there are however some schools that take in high functioning autists or kids with Asberger’s that are fully verbal but struggle with social skills (and I’m mentioning Asperger’s here because I know someone like this)
  3. If autistic children can get the 1-on-1 stimulation they need they can improve their social abilities
  4. Autistic children are not all the same and have different abilities/strengths
  5. Employment opportunities for young autistic adults…

I’m in no way an expert on autism or know how hard it is to have an autistic child – but I listen.

  • I have learnt that divorce rates are higher for parents with autistic children;
  • Parents across South Africa and even in big cities just have to resort to home-schooling because there simply aren’t autism schools around and mainstream schools just aren’t equipped;
  • In some communities autistic children are thought to be bewitched and cast out; There isn’t a word in most of these languages for autism;
  • Autistic kids can use a special communicator that records x number of actions/wants/needs but these devices are more expensive than a tablet you would buy;
  • A change in routine could cause a meltdown and that loadshedding is just another obstacle;
  • That we should start caring and learning about autism, because 1 in 50 children worldwide have autism;

So here I am, just a mom realising that I should maybe not judge the parent who has a kid that has a major meltdown and that maybe I should #stopstaringstartcaring because it might just be a parent with an autistic child.


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Susann Deysel is a marketing consultant at Geek Media and regularly writes on her blog Goddess about travel, parenting and women’s interest subjects. Don’t quote her on anything, because she may be sleep deprived. She’s been working with Amazing K autism school in Johannesburg for some time now.

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