NWU prepares to host fourth Autism Symposium

Belinda Bantham -- Tue, 04/23/2019 - 10:01

NWU prepares to host fourth Autism Symposium

The Institute of Psychology and Wellbeing at the North-West University (NWU) hosts its fourth Autism Symposium* on 8 and 9 July this year. The NWU and Autism South Africa (A;SA) are jointly presenting the event.

The annual Autism Symposium offers support to families and is a unique platform where parents, educationists, medical care staff, social workers and employers involved with children and adults on the autism spectrum can learn from each other and obtain the most recent information available.

The symposium has grown into a national event and last year also invited adult autists as speakers. The overwhelmingly positive feedback indicates that these persons are the true experts and that their contribution is valuable in promoting a positive attitude towards neurodiversity.

Autism awareness in the spotlight

The symposium follows on Autism Awareness Month, which was celebrated in April.

“The awareness month is an opportunity to reflect again on the initiatives introduced to support students, staff and the community who live with autism every day,” says Hanlie Degenaar, speech therapist at the NWU.

Autism spectrum disorder is characterised by problems with social communication and social interaction in all contexts, as well as restricted interests and repetitive movements or behaviour.

Persons with autism can also experience sensory information from the environment in a very intense manner and sometimes do not notice what is happening around them. Some autists only require adjustments and understanding from others, but in more serious cases of autism spectrum disorder, intensive intervention may be required.

The Institute of Psychology and Wellbeing, together with Autism South Africa, decided in 2016 to address the overwhelming need for resources for people on this spectrum in North West.

Experts come together to assist

An association agreement between the two parties led to the first Autism Symposium in 2016, which was held on the NWU’s campus in Potchefstroom. An Autism Assessment Unit at the Institute of Psychology and Wellbeing was established in the same period.

The assessment unit, which is run from the Institute of Psychology and Wellbeing, will have been functioning successfully for three years by May this year. The staff involved here are experts trained in using gold-standard assessment tools for diagnosing autism.

The unit provides an important service to the community, including diagnoses, information and assistance with the first steps a family or person should take to manage the condition.  A challenge to the unit is the shortage of resources in the province and the lack of sustained support to persons with autism.

*The national Autism Symposium will be held on the NWU’s campus in Potchefstroom on 8 and 9 July. The organisers also plan to accommodate requests for short practical workshops for interested persons on 6 and 7 July.

The workshops will include themes such as challenging behaviour, friendships, reading development, sensory profiles and the use of social stories. More information on the event is available from the Institute of Psychology and Wellbeing at 018 299 1737 or IPWinfo@nwu.ac.za.