The little man jumps from one couch to the next, shifts from one television channel to the other in seconds, highly elusive and moving from door to door without saying much (if anything at all).
His mother has to watch him like hawk lest he disappears to either go on a destroying rampage, or do anything that may cause harm to himself. At some point she has even had to keep him on a leash at shopping malls just so he won’t wander off her radar.
“I have had people staring at me disapprovingly because they felt I was abusing my boy,” Tshepiso Basele says of her six year old autistic son.
Physically, Basele’s son is a handsome young man who displays absolutely no signs of the neurodevelopmental disorder. But when and how did Basele discover her son had autism?
“The first signs that there was something wrong with my son were when I noticed he was taking longer than his older brother to reach developmental milestones,” she tells Lifestyle. She took him to a General Practitioner when he was a year old and the doctor recommended keeping him under observation.
Basele says at the time the boy also had sight and hearing challenges. It was not until he was two years old that her son was finally diagnosed with autism. She says the boy usually keeps to himself, almost oblivious to the world around him, aloof, and would hardly make eye contact or speak.
“Sometimes he just loses it and throws tantrums,” Basele says. She says other symptoms include a very short concentration span. “He cannot do any activity for longer than 15 minutes at a time.”
She has since enrolled her son at a private school that offers neuro-developmental therapy for autistic children in Gaborone where she says she has to part with at least P15, 000 per term. “I don’t even earn anything close to that much a month,” says Basele, a teacher at Gaborone Senior Secondary School.
She says the boy has displayed some significant signs of improvement since attending the school. Being a single mother, Basele says the school fees have taken a toll on her finances.
“I cannot even afford to hire a trained caregiver for my son.” She says she has to wake up as early as 5 am every day to keep up with her son’s biological clock. “When he wakes up at five he goes straight to the bathroom for a bath, then the kitchen for breakfast.” She says her son loves cooking, doing the dishes, playing music, and swimming.
Although they have not assisted her financially she says Autism Botswana has been helpful in terms of capacity building. “When you have them you at least feel like you are not alone.”
Autism Botswana recently received a boost from Botswana Insurance Company Limited (BIC) in the form of a P50,000 donation .The money was a contribution towards support of an integrated pilot project that Autism Botswana and Camphill Community Trust is undertaking for early identification and intervention for children with autism and other developmental delays. The sponsorship was part of the funding needed to successfully complete the project activities. The pilot project, supported by funding from the EU through the Empowerment of Non State Actors, was launched at Ranaka in November 2015 after various stakeholders were sensitized on their roles in the project. The principal objective of the project is to enable all people with disabilities to have the best opportunity to achieve a life of dignity, respect, opportunity and community inclusion through access to early intervention, education and training that is appropriate to their individual needs. Through screening procedures, children who have been identified with autism or other developmental delays are receiving appropriate interventions that will give them a better chance to progress in educational placements.
The aim of the project is to ultimately develop the capacity of Autism Botswana to be a resource organization that is sustainable and able to provide advocacy and support to people with autism and their families. “We have learnt that this is an area that affects so many lives and intense public education is required and we are pleased to be able to support the project in sensitizing and creating awareness that will positively benefit many families giving an element of hope,” said BIC Managing Director, Johann Claasen when handing over the cheque. Autism Botswana is a non-profit making organization that aims at raising awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder, advocating for the rights of those living with Autism and helping to ensure a meaningful life for people with Autism. The organisation also strives to offer support to families of those affected by autism.