Els for Autism is expanding its reach in South Africa and a new satellite office in Cape Town is the first step towards countrywide coverage. Opening a branch in the Western Cape has been made possible by the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, through their Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (DCAP).
‘We’re still on the path,’ said Chanel Baumgarten, who runs the Cape Town office of Els for Autism. ‘We currently have three families, and in the next three months we’re aiming for five more families.’
She works in conjunction with UCT Professor Petrus de Vries, who is the academic head at DCAP.
‘For the next six months we will only be taking children from internal avenues – through the doctors and psychiatrists who work at DCAP,’ said Baumgarten, who has an honours degree in special needs education. ‘If I have any concerns I can go back the referring specialist.’
The Els for Autism centre in Johannesburg takes children up to the age of 18, but the Cape Town office is currently dealing with children aged between three and 10 years old.
Families must sign up for a 12-month course that enables the parents to teach their children specific skills, such as receptive language, expressive language, daily living, and pre-academics.
The visits alternate between parent-only and full family trips. It’s a parent training programme and they, in turn, teach their child. The more demanding the needs of the child, the more time must be spent with the family.
‘We are teaching the children skills, so we want to involve the parents in deciding which skills to teach based on where on the spectrum they fall. The parents have to get a 90% pass rate on the course, which helps them to build confidence and understand the programme is, what autism is, what applied behavioural analysis is. They get introduced to all of the jargon,’ said Baumgarten. ‘We’re looking at lower income families, as there is no cost outside of transport.’
‘The Els Centre for Autism South Africa has a new satellite office in Cape Town and to that end we are blessed to have the collaboration of the esteemed Professor Petrus De Vries of UCT,’ Ernie Els said in his April diary. ‘It will ensure that [we[ can provide higher quality of work for families closer to that side of the country.’
The lessons are based online and incorporate over 1500 videos from Rethink First, which is an autism-specialised online programme.
‘Our families are going through us to access the programme. We do abilities assessment testing and bluff testing (that’s me with the child) and then list them on the computer, which in turn spits out exercises that the parents can employ,’ said Baumgarten.
‘We have three lovely families who seem to be receiving it very well. We’ve only seen them for a month and a half, and as we get more comfortable it’s beginning to work well,’ she added.
Els has dedicated much of his time and energy to introducing autism to the world. He and his wife, Liesl, have worked tirelessly to help children like their son Ben, who is on the autism spectrum.
‘Since the opening of the original centre in Johannesburg in 2011, the team has served hundreds of families by focusing on empowering parents or care-givers to best teach their child on the autism spectrum,’ Els said. ‘As we continue expanding the number of families across the country, we are beginning our expansion of services.’ – Mike Taylor