The Western Cape government has recently pledged R68 million to improve facilities and resources for students with autism in existing schools. This funding will be used to build two new special needs schools and 28 classrooms in existing schools that will cater specifically to students with autism. In addition to this, the Western Cape Education Department has earmarked an additional R214 million to support these students until 2026, in addition to existing special education funding. The move has been widely welcomed by the autism community, as rising incidences of autism in recent years have created a backlog that needs to be addressed urgently.
The Importance of Special Needs Schools
Special needs schools are essential in providing comprehensive support and empowerment for autistic students, individual support, and attention. While many have praised the government’s efforts, it is clear that further consent is required. According to Mduduzi Dube, managing director of Autism Western Cape, there is a staff shortage, limited training for educators, and a lack of counselors and therapists at specialized schools. Parents hoping to enroll their children also face long waiting lists. Vicky Oettle, an education specialist at Autism South Africa, added that children on the autism spectrum desperately needed individualized support. In addition, education can become costly if parents are forced to send their child to a private special needs school to make up for education gaps caused by teacher and resource shortages.
While the Western Cape government’s efforts to improve support for students with autism are commendable, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that autistic individuals receive the necessary support and resources throughout their lives. Oettle and Dube both agree that the discussion should go beyond education. They urge more significant access to healthcare and support given to parents and carers. There is also no support for autistic students at university, and employers are often unwilling to hire them. Across the lifespan of autistic adults, we need to do more. The Western Cape government’s investment in autism education is a step in the right direction, but we must continue to work towards a more comprehensive support system for autistic individuals.