Creating awareness for autism

Autism Western Cape held an awareness day at Green Point Park on Saturday as part of Autism Awareness Month.

From left are, Anna-Beth Aylward, Roshan Abrahams, Mogammad Salie, Adelin Gatorade, Mujahid Hendricks, Wajeed Parker, Cheyenne Peterzell and Zaida Frank from Autism Western Cape pictured at an awareness drive at Green Point Park.

With a staff of 10, Autism Western Cape (AWC) serves the entire province. To make their services accessible to everyone, they offer them at no cost.

Services provided by the organisation include post-diagnosis psycho-educational support at state hospitals or clinics as well as ongoing counselling and support for individuals and families, and workshops for parents and caregivers.

“Autism is varied, different, so each person has their own set of challenges and our purpose is to help the family adapt their environment to be able to assist the person reach their potential,” said Zaida Frank, operations manager for AWC, a registered public benefit organisation with offices in Woodstock.

Autism cannot be cured, said Ms Frank, and those who have it should not be referred to as people who are suffering but rather as people who require assistance according to the spectrum.

“It’s part of their identity, it is who they are, so how are they suffering, they are not sick, it’s not a disability; it’s a lifelong condition. There are four key areas we look at when it comes to autism support and they are language and communication, social interaction, thinking and behaviour and sensory processing,” she explained.

“While one person may need support with communication, another needs help for senses, or it could be a combination of a high level of support for senses and a low level of support for communication,” Ms Frank added.

Wajeed Parker, 33, is a training officer at AWC, he has a Master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Cape Town and he is autistic.

“I do get anxiety, for example when I get to work late I’d wait outside the manager’s office and not go in until someone calls me in, because I’m anxious. I like structure, so if I don’t arrive on time, if I break that structure, it’s a problem,” Mr Parker said.

“Autistic people usually shy away from people, so with this job I have to go out and get to know people and create awareness about autism which I love doing,” he said.

AWC has seen over 5 000 families this past year that required training with autistic individuals.

Anna-Beth Aylward, the training co-ordinator at AWC, said they have eight modules that vary from communication skills to social skills and potty training.

“Potty training is a huge thing for parents of autistic kids; they do struggle so they do need training for that. 95% of autistic children have sensory issues, so there is training for the sensory aspect, how to adjust if your child is sensitive to certain food textures,” said Ms Aylward.

“This year we have had requests from schools to speak to autistic kids about puberty. Autistic people can’t use idioms because they take things literally, so you have to say things as it is. It was very awkward to do that puberty training but we have done it and we will do it with more schools,” she said.

Ms Aylward said transitioning from school to the workplace is another big step for autistic individuals, and they offer training for this aspect as well.

“They hate change as it causes them anxiety, so we offer training for the parents and the autistic individual to manage this shift in their lives.”

For more information about AWC and the services they offer, call 021 685 9581 or 021 462 8232, email or log on to