Light it up blue for Autism Awareness Day

STAFF REPORTER

With Autism Awareness Month commemorated in April and World Autism Awareness Day marked on Saturday April 2, Autism Connect in Mitchell’s Plain is raising awareness around autism with its annual fun walk.

Autism spectrum disorder or autism, is an umbrella term used to describe a group of complex disorders of brain development. It affects the way people see the world and respond to stimuli (sound, light, touch, space, smell, taste) in it. Autism is also known as a social communication disorder and affects four major areas of development, namely language and communication, social interaction, thinking and behaviour and sensory processing.

To debunk the myths around autism, Nicolette Ripepi, founder of Autism Connect whose son Tyler is autistic, and Durbanville resident Kim Von Weidts, mom to Lukas, who is also autistic, have penned an open letter, titled “It’s Autism Don’t Panic It’s not Contagious”.

Calling themselves “The Warrior Moms”, the letter reads: “This is not a letter to tell you about what autism is or how our children possibly might have contracted it , but rather a letter from a parent who finds herself with a unique child.

“There is a saying that if you met one autistic child , you have only met one autistic child – that is, they are all one-offs. What behavioural symptoms might exist in one might not exist in another, their temperaments are different, their level of language acquisition and cognitive behaviour is different to each other too.

“Autism is described as a spectrum disorder – a description that includes milder to severe forms of autism. In one family you might find more than one kind. The human experience is shared through norms, for example language, body language, affection – these are not norms for children on the spectrum who need to learn these norms. With these basic building blocks missing you as the parent have to think outside any box you might have come across before to find solutions. The need to find therapies and acceptance for your child takes the toll on your marriage, funds, family and the siblings in the family.

“As parents of children with autism, we would like the broader neuro typical community to just pause before you judge – if you see a child in a shopping centre that looks normal but is behaving ‘differently’ that child might have sensory issues about being at brightly lit, noisy, seemingly chaotic shopping centres. Ask question – a sincere interested question is better than a rude stare.

“On reflection we consider our boys to be fortunate; they are armed with moms who have the drive to want to know more about their condition, recognise their differences, advocate with their school and teachers for appropriate treatment or handling. As parents we all want better futures for our children and this desire is no different from any other parent.

“We worry for those children whose parents have less support, resources, no desire to recognise their difference as a child in the autistic spectrum. Ignorance is not always bliss, tolerance is a blessing.

“In closing, autism is not a processing error, it is a different operating system”.

* Autism Connect will have its annual fun walk on Saturday April 2, with the theme “ Light it Up Blue” in celebration of World Autism Awareness Day, with registration taking place at 8.30am at the Autism Connect Learning Centre at 24 Saringa Street, Westridge. The walk starts at 9am, marching through Westridge Gardens and the surrounds.

Activities for the day will include a mobile climbing wall, face painting, an obstacle course, a sack races and refreshments will be on sale.

Entry is R15 for adults and R10 for children with medals awarded for first, second and third place finishers.

You can register either online by going to their Facebook page Autismconnectmp or downloading the forms from their website on www.autismconnect.org.za or email info@autismconnect.org.za