‘The Big Autism Thing’ walk to Cape Town gets underway in Port Shepstone — photo gallery

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A team of walkers has set off from Port Shepstone on an incredibly arduous journey on foot to Cape Town in the Big Autism Thing (BAT), an initiative aimed at creating awareness and raising funds for the benefit of autistic people.

The initiative was developed by the Association for Autism and Charity on the Go in 2012. At the time, both organisations were registered non-profit-organisations working within the charity sector striving to create a better life for disabled people.

This event has developed into an annual event based around a different activity each year.

Six full-time Champions, two of whom completed the same challenge in April/May 2012, started their long walk on a designated route in Port Shepstone and plan to complete their journey in Strand on 2 May.

The group made their way from Port Shepstone to Port St Johns this week and enjoyed their first rest day on Saturday..

South Coast centre making a difference

Sheryl Mulder from Cornerstone Learning Centre, situated on the premises of  Norwegian Settlers Church, welcomed the opportunity to be a part of BAT this year.

“We have close ties with the Association for Autism [AFA] who, together with Charity on the Go are organising this large scale fundraising and autism awareness event.”

“AFA contacted me last year to ask if we would like to be a beneficiary of The Big Autism Thing, and of course we were absolutely delighted to be given this opportunity,” said Mulder.

Cornerstone Learning Centre opened in January 2014 and the number of pupils has doubled to 22 since then.

“There is a great need for a school such as ours on the South Coast, and it is our greatest desire to meet that need to the best of our ability in our community,” stressed Mulder.

“We have had several professionals, specialising in the field of autism, come and visit our school and give training to our staff.

“They have all given high praise to the standard of education and intervention that we are providing to the pupils at our school. We have a highly dedicated team of teachers who have a passion for helping these amazing children.”

Mulder appealed to the community to get involved with the local school and the BAT drive (see contact details below).

“We are a non-profit organisation and depend on school fees for our monthly running costs, and fundraising for any improvements and equipment needed for the pupils.

“Due to the fact that our classes are very small [five children in a class with a qualified teacher], our fees are higher than many other schools, which makes it unaffordable for many families. We are seeking sponsorship for pupils who need to come to us, but parents cannot afford the full school fees.

“We also need to add on new classrooms, as we are at capacity at the moment. We need to have at least one new classroom with two extra toilets in time to open a new class in January 2016.

“We aim to add a new class every year, as the pupils grow older. Ultimately, we would like to see those children who are academically able to complete their matric year at our school, and to also offer a vocational skills programme for those pupils who would benefit from a more practical curriculum.

“All sponsorships and donations will be acknowledged in the press, social media, our website as well as the annual report, and Section 18A certificates are available to be issued to donors.”

Locals join in

As the team of BAT walkers enter towns, the local autism organisation (if any), support groups, residents and other community organisations will join the walk. Local organisations will then also get exposure as part of the project.

The Champions will arrange to meet with mayors, local authorities or community representatives in towns, where autism information will be disseminated and any funding raised will be handed over.

The Champions will continuously keep in touch with the broader community via Facebook and
Twitter and will post photos, videos and narratives online as the walk progresses.

Apart from the Champions, there will be a support volunteer team, making up the “ground crew”. They will ensure that autism information is available.

The ground crew will also arrange for appropriate marketing and promotional materials ahead of the arrival of the Champions in towns. The ground crew will also be in charge of first aid during the journey.

All accommodation for the Champions and ground crew will be arranged in advance in conjunction with local communities.

The Big Autism Thing itinerary:

Prevalence of autism (click here):

About one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network
ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. [Read summary] [Read article]
ASD is almost five times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189).

What is autism (click here)?

It’s a condition that affects how the brain develops which can then impact on how a person interacts, their ability to communicate and to make sense of the world they live in.

It is complex and incredibly varied – from quite mild to so severe that a person may be unable to communicate. The full name for it is autistic spectrum disorder – ASD. It is a spectrum disorder because it affects every individual in a very different way.

What causes autism (click here)?

Genetic influences on autism are estimated to be between 74-98%, a Medical Research Council study of 258 twins suggests.

Researcher Dr Francesca Happe said, although not perfect, all the evidence pointed to genes playing a bigger role in autism than previously thought.

“Our findings suggest environmental factors are smaller, which is important because some parents are concerned whether things like high pollution might be causing autism.

“Some people think there might be a big environmental component because autism has become more common in recent years but that’s happened too fast for genetics to be a probable cause.

“The main consensus now is that the rise in diagnosis has more to do with increased awareness of the condition.”

To support Cornerstone Learning Centre, phone them on 039 685 6467 and visit www.cslc.co.za for more information.

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