Tomorrow, 02 April 2020 is World Autism Day. The theme for 2020 World Autism Awareness Day is: The Transition to Adulthood. While the world's attention is focussed on stopping COVID-19, the department calls on all South Africans to take the time to understand and accept people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in order to foster tolerance and inclusivity.
The Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane encourages every citizen to empower themselves with knowledge on autism and the diverse support needs of persons with disabilities, particularly in light of South Africa's current national lockdown.
The theme The Transition to Adulthood focuses on the significant challenges persons with autism face when transitioning to become a full and equal participant in the social, economic and political spheres of society. The theme seeks to reveal how a lack of understanding and acceptance by society in general, impedes the inclusion of persons with autism into everyday life. While there are no accurate statistics for South Africa, the World Health Organisation estimates that one in sixty children globally are autistic.
The department wishes to reiterate that persons with disabilities are among those who are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of COVID-19, especially during the State of Disaster and the national lockdown that we are currently under. Persons with disabilities, the elderly, those in frail care, and children with disabilities continue to remain at the periphery of society and are isolated from activities during the best of times. During the national lockdown these groups face increased isolation through their physical, neurodevelopmental and psychosocial conditions as well as through information not being made available in accessible formats by media, on websites etc. Furthermore, due to persons with autism requiring varying levels of support, and many dependent on caregivers, many are still at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Therefore, persons with disabilities and caregivers must take special precautions to minimise risk of transmitting the virus.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition related to brain development and has the most noticeable impact in the way a person communicates and socialises with others resulting in miscommunication, misunderstanding and a core difference in processing information. Autism affects the way a person interacts and learns. The condition also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behaviour which can result in huge difficulties with change and the need for sameness and routine. People with autism also experience sensory processing differences. Being a spectrum condition levels of support for persons with autism may range from requiring high levels of support, to minimal levels of support. There is a wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms persons may experience, and so there is no 'one-size fits all' for support.
Lockdown can also be a challenging time for persons with autism, because of the constant support needs required by some autistic children and adults. During the lockdown period, persons with autism can experience heightened levels of frustration and anxiety due to a break in routine, and a lack of resources and appropriate engagement.
Due to their communication challenges, persons with autism are also considered a vulnerable group when it comes to GBV, because they may not be able to report incidents of abuse, or children with autism may not understand they are being abused or that they need to signal that something is wrong. Hence, the department encourages South Africa to learn more about autism, and to understand the challenges and to learn how to provide a reliable means of communication through alternative augmentative communication to this very vulnerable sector of society.
The department encourages all South Africans to continue to combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practises that hurt in any way, persons with disabilities and prevent their participation in all spheres of life.
To ensure that persons with disabilities receive accessible information during this critical time, the Gender Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) (0800 428 428) has a Skype Line (add "Helpme GBV" to your Skype contacts) and "Please Call Me" facility: *120*7867#. An SMS Based Line is also available on 31531.
Call to Action:
Let us all work together to combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities in all spheres of life.
We can support persons with disabilities by promoting, protecting and advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in our areas of influence.
Care services and social relief of distress provided to older persons, persons with psychosocial disabilities, persons with physical disabilities, the infirmed, and children with special care needs are considered essential services.
Caregivers assisting persons with disabilities are essential service workers.
Caregivers are essential in ensuring that persons with disabilities continue to access services and goods during the lockdown.
Caregivers will continue to assist persons with disabilities to access their social grants and to perform other essential tasks.
Persons with special needs will continue to be allowed to leave their homes for essential tasks.
The standard practices on persons with visual impairments who have guide dogs will apply.
The standard practices for persons with psychosocial disabilities who have service dogs and autism support dogs will apply.
We encourage essential service providers to support the elderly and persons with disabilities by establishing exclusive hours to buy necessities or prioritising them in queues.
The Minister for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities will issue legal directions to ensure that Persons with Disabilities are included in all COVID-19 related measures, activities, programmes and services.
We encourage all South Africans to show increased care and support for at-risk groups within society during this national lockdown period.
For interviews contact Ms Mmabatho Ramompi on 076 480 3513 / firstname.lastname@example.org or Mr Pelane Mabula-Phakgadi on 072 169 2507 or Pelane.Mabula@women.gov.za
For further information contact Mr Shalen Gajadhar on 060 979 4235 / email@example.com
Know and Share these contact details:
GBV Command Centre: 0800 428 428 / *120*7867# from any cell phone / Persons with disabilities, SMS 'help' to 31531
Women Abuse Helpline: 0800 150 150
Child line: 0800 055 555
SAPS Crime Stop: 0860 10111
GBVF-related service complaints (SAPS): 0800 333 177/
Commission for Gender Equality Toll-Free to report cases of gender abuse: 0800 007 709
National AIDS Helpline: 0800 012 322
National Human Trafficking Helpline: 0800 222 777
Suicide Helpline: 0800 567 567
National Department of Health: https://www.health.gov.za
National Institute of Communicable Diseases: https://www.nicd.ac.za
World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int
Coronavirus Hotline: 0800 029 999