World Autism Awareness Day 2018

2 April

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that manifests itself during the first three years of life. The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and it has a tremendous impact on children, their families, communities and societies.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 62/139, tabled by the State of Qatar, in 2007 to declare 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD).

World Autism Awareness Day shines a light on autism as a growing global health problem.  Part of this day is the Light It Up Blue campaign, where over 160 countries worldwide get involved in the awareness campaign by lighting up landmarks, buildings and cities all around the world.  The South African public is encouraged to shine blue lights, hoist blue flags and weare blue clothes as a symbol of solidarity with persons with autism and their families’ struggles to be recognised as equal citizens.

Activities surrounding the day help to increase and develop world knowledge of autism and stress the importance of early diagnosis and early intervention. Additionally, WAAD celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism and is a day when individuals with autism are warmly welcomed and embraced in community events around the globe.

More about autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. ASD is a neurological disability and people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.

The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely impaired.  Some people with ASD need high support (a lot of help and intensive intervention) while others need low support (less help and less intensive intervention).

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are characterised, in varying degrees, by

  • difficulties in social interaction,
  • verbal and nonverbal communication,
  • repetitive behaviours and
  • differences in sensory perception.

There are currently no reliable prevalence studies indicating figures in South Africa (due to stigma, lack of access to medical interventions, under-diagnosis, over diagnosis, cultural misperceptions; etc.). A leading researcher in South Africa based at UCT estimates that approximately 2% of our population is affected by ASD. 

Autism can be managed.

Support measures include putting structure and routine into place, managing sensory differences via occupational therapy or sensory integration therapy. There are many intervention strategies e.g. applied behavioural analysis, TEACCH, behavioural interventions and so on.  Some individuals respond well to bio-medical interventions such as a change in diet, and others don’t. 

The Department of Social Development has prioritised the developmental rights of children with autism, and is currently implementing community-based empowerment programmes for parents and care-givers of children with autism in partnership with Autism South Africa. The Department is also collaborating with Autism SA, among others, in a research project to determine the actual cost of autism to the family, the cost of opportunity, the cost of loss of opportunity, as well as the cost of services.  The purpose of the study is to provide evidence for policy review and subsidisation models.

The Department encourages families of children with autism to stand up for their rights by ensuring that they are enrolled in early childhood development programmes, that they access health and rehabilitation services, and that all children between the ages of 7 and 15 years are enrolled in school.

For more information on autism and services for persons with autism, please contact:

Taxpayers who are disabled, or who have dependents with disabilities, (including autism), qualify for tax disability rebates. Contact your nearest SARS office to enquire.

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