Autism poses huge financial threat

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The prevalence of autism in South Africa is reaching epidemic proportions and could have a significant impact on the South African economy unless early intervention treatment is widely advocated and implemented. The occurrence of this development disorder has increased by 500% over the past five years and currently one out of every 110 children in South Africa is affected by this neurological disorder. The latest statistics have shown that at least ten new cases are identified per week in the Western Cape alone. In April, the world turns its attention to the far-reaching effects of autism by celebrating World Autism Month. The Cape-based SNAP (Special Needs Adapted Programme) is an association that offers services for children with autism at their head quarters based in Durbanville, Cape Town, but also has satellite services countrywide. They present a unique, child-specific, one-on-one, integrated programme for children with autism and other special needs. Their programme recognizes the uniqueness of each child and is geared to addressing the needs of each individual child and their family. There are currently only six state-funded schools catering for children with autism in the entire country, which means that thousands of children on the autism spectrum are not receiving the benefit of educational intervention as the roll out of special needs units in public schools are not happening quickly enough and the private programs struggling for funding. Approximately 1000 autistic children are catered for within the government school system. SNAP is one of a very few organisations in South Africa offering a specialised programme aimed at children diagnosed on the autism spectrum and have been operating for the past 15 years. According to SNAP spokesperson Esme Brink, early intervention is essential. “Research has shown that early intervention can result in as many as 48% of diagnosed children being mainstreamed into regular schools, which has a great socio-economic impact. It has been calculated that it costs a family approximately R3-million to raise a child on the autism spectrum in their lifetime, as treatments are specialised and very expensive. However, if early intervention is received the cost comes down to R1m. With the escalation of autism in this country, we could face a dire economic crisis if these children do not receive assistance and specialised intervention,” mentions Brink. “If you consider the numbers of children, who are currently going untreated, this could potentially have a disastrous spill-over effect on the country’s labour force both in terms of adults not capable of functioning within the workplace or families that have to carry the huge financial burden to accommodate these children. The far-reaching implications of this disorder can be an enormous drain on South African human resources unless the public and private sectors join hands to fight this situation, especially if it is taken into account that autism predominantly afflicts boys, with four out of five autism cases currently being diagnosed amongst boys,” urges Brink. As part of their fundraising drive and awareness campaign, SNAP will be hosting a prestigious gala dinner and charity auction to raise awareness and funds to sponsor more children in their programme. TV presenter Michael Mol will host the event on Thursday, 12 April, at 15 on Orange in Cape Town. Former Springbok rugby player Toks van der Linde has also pledged his support to the cause. The highly acclaimed instrumental pop group Sterling EQ promises to wow guests with their glamorous virtuoso performance during the dinner. A unique charity auction will also take place to raise additional funds. Tickets are available at R1000 per person and the net proceeds of this donation is tax deductible in terms of Section 18A of the Income Tax act as SNAP is a Public Benefit Organisation.