UNDERSTANDING the conditions of children with learning and cognitive disabilities such as autism is key to ensuring they don’t become outcasts in society.
This was said by Metropolitan Lesotho Managing Director Nkau Matete while handing over M50 000 the insurance giant donated to Autism Lesotho through its Metropolitan Health division this week in Maseru.
Autism Lesotho is a support group for parents with autistic children which was established in 2011. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior.
It is a lifelong developmental condition that affects, among other things, the way an individual relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people.
Parents usually notice signs of autism in the first two years of their child’s life. These signs often develop gradually, though some children with autism reach their developmental milestones at a normal pace and then regress. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent in early childhood, typically before age three.
Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities.
The M50 000 donation was a proceed of the insurance giant’s charity golf tournament, Golf Charity Cup — held in August this year — in which corporates competed against each other with the winning team choosing a charity of their choice.
Mr Matete said the initiative was Metropolitan Lesotho’s way of giving back to Basotho who support their business.
“We realized that autism affected a lot of parents who are also our customers,” he said.
“Therefore, the condition affects us as Metropolitan Lesotho as well hence the decision to donate this amount we won at the golf tournament to Autism Lesotho.
“We have been supporting the organization since 2013 in different ways such as participating in the annual Autism Day celebrations.”
Mr Matete said he had intimate knowledge of the condition since his son was also autistic.
“Society does not understand kids with such a condition, and sometimes brands them as misfits while some parents tend to hide them in their houses,” he said.
“I have a son who is autistic, and he engages in repetitive behavior which is one of the symptoms of the condition. When he was young, my son used to break the neighbours’ windows and I had to find someone to fix them on a regular basis.”
Mr Matete added: “Fortunately, I have a proper job to pay for those challenges and for his special diet. I always wonder how parents of autistic children who are unemployed cope. We are hoping that the money will help the organisation achieve some of its objectives.”
Autism Lesotho chairperson, Makhetha Moshabesha, commended Metropolitan Lesotho for the gesture, saying they intended to use the money to raise more awareness on the condition.
“Metropolitan has been supporting us for a long time and we are very grateful for their support. We will use the money to raise awareness about autism and turn this support group into a foundation,” he said.
“We are a group of parents with autistic children. We are not medical experts, but we equip each other with knowhow on dealing with our children based on the experiences we have individually. The medical attention that our kids need is scarce and some of the foods they eat, such as goat milk, we have to import from South Africa.”
Mr Moshabesha added: “We want to get to a point where medical experts can equip parents with knowledge of taking care of kids with autism and holding seminars at different schools so that our kids are not regarded as outcasts.”
Autism: Know the signs
Autism is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. Below are some signs of autism to look for in children:
- Lack of or delay in spoken language
- Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
- Little or no eye contact
- Lack of interest in peer relationships
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects