Special needs education in South Africa faces numerous challenges, including resource constraints, insufficient training for educators, and disparities in access to ABA treatment between urban and rural areas. For individuals with autism, these challenges are compounded by a lack of specialised support services, limited awareness about the condition among educators and communities, and cultural beliefs that may contribute to stigma and misconceptions. Additionally, poverty and socio-economic factors can further exacerbate the barriers to accessing education and support for individuals with autism and their families.

A lot of the time, this lack of education does not allow the child to reach their full potential, and there is the goal to provide support through private ABA treatment built on research and the South African national curriculum and learning milestones. These programmes are designed by a qualified case manager who builds an intake report based on a session with a child and then builds a programme for instructors to follow. These instructors are trained in behavioural therapy and have the qualifications to implement this programme during one-on-one sessions.

For children who are younger or have different needs, academics are the focus of later programmes, and other programmes include functional communication skills, speech, toilet training, following instructions, and imitation skills. Every part of the programme is based on the needs of the individual child, and the primary focus is building each skill to provide a firm foundation for the child to communicate and learn.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication challenges, and repetitive behaviours or restricted interests. In South Africa, as in other parts of the world, individuals with autism often face stigma, discrimination, and limited access to appropriate support services. The prevalence of autism in South Africa is estimated to be similar to global rates, but there is a lack of comprehensive data and awareness about the condition, leading to barriers in diagnosis and intervention.

The Star Academy is a South African-based company that specialises in ABA treatment. There are centres based in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Rustenburg, and Durban, and internationally there are Mauritius and United Kingdom bases. The Star Academy is also working on expanding to areas in central London with the aim of providing quality ABA therapy to more international spaces.

Special needs education in South Africa is evolving, but significant challenges remain in ensuring equitable access to quality education for individuals with autism. By addressing barriers such as stigma, limited resources, and insufficient awareness, South Africa can work towards creating more inclusive educational environments where individuals with autism are valued, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential. Through collaboration, advocacy, and a commitment to embracing diversity, South Africa can build a brighter future for all learners, regardless of their abilities or differences. Alongside this, ABA practices are becoming accessible worldwide and the best ABA treatment can also be accessed online sessions or through The Star Academy’s rotation programme.

Article by: Ashleigh Pascoe