Hlengiwe Zulu I now understand how to teach a child with autism

I am a teacher at Kingdom Preschool in Manzini and I was invited to the Early Identification and Intervention (EII) training in 2016. I went to the training with no idea about what they meant about EII and why we needed a strategy. SWANCEFA (Swaziland Network Campaign For Education for All) facilitated the training on children with physical and mental disabilities, and with anti-social disorders.

At my preschool, I had a child with autism. The child was very slow; she could not grasp things well.

Through the training at SWANCEFA, I was able to approach the mother in the right way without upsetting her about the condition of the child. I told the mother that I was noticing that the child was having a speech delay something that she confirmed and said she had started taking the child to doctors.

At the workshop, we were advised to approach the parent in a good manner and at the right time to discuss any signs of disability a child might have.

The child’s mother thanked me. As we were about to close for the second term break, the mother told me that the child is now better; she now uses short words and I am noticing a big difference as well. We still have a long way to go but we come a long way.

I also shared the information I got from the workshop with the mother on how to treat a child with autism. For instance, one must not give a child with autism colourful food because he or she may become restless. Another thing, one should not give the child too much work or shout or engage him or her in noisy activities because this irritates the child.

I used to notice that when we were having musical activities in class, the autistic child used to close her ears and point them but I did not know why she was doing that. However, I realised from the training that the noise irritated the child and I then reduced the volume whenever we have a musical activity.

The child also needs to be involved in all the activities that the class engages but the teacher needs to be patient and repeat whatever he or she is saying many times for the benefit of the children with special needs. For instance, when doing daily skills, I do not give the child too much work so that she is able to master the skill.

We were also encouraged to use different ways of teaching. You have to explain and give the child the object that you are talking about. For example, when talking about an apple, you must give the child the actual apple to touch and see. The children have to use all their senses to enhance his or her understanding in class.

Another thing is that a teacher has to provide the child with many toys, which will help you identify the child’s strengths and weaknesses because children are at different levels of disability. Unfortunately, we do not have enough material at preschools because of inadequate resources. As a result, teachers end giving the children the same activity such as puzzles, something that does not stimulate CWD.

At the training, we were also taught how to make bin bags and use them for an activity to determine whether the child could have a physical disability or not.

I did my training at FEA Teachers Training Centre at Helemisi, in Manzini, where they took us to St Joseph’s and Ekwetsembeni to interact with CWD. However, the SWANCEFA workshop helped a lot because they gave us knowledge of what preschool teachers can do to help the child. I also learnt that, as a teacher, I should show love and compassion to the child with disabilities so that the other children could follow my example. If a teacher discriminates, then the children will also discriminate against CWD.  

As preschool teachers, we need toys and story books because the children like to read and play. We need toys for inside and outside the classroom. SWANCEFA should also remember us and continue to provide training for preschool teachers.

Apart from being a teacher, I am also a zone leader. Therefore, after the training, I called a meeting for all preschool teachers under my zone with the help of the Regional Education Office where I shared the knowledge from the workshop. I think we need to organise a march and involve CWD to raise awareness among the broader public about the EII Strategy. SWANCEFA and other organisations should also train politicians so that they can appreciate the Strategy and help those implementing it.

Pius Dlamini Motivating expecting mother to get antenatal care prevents disabilities

Pius Dlamini has gone against the grain and became one of the fewest male Community Health Motivators (CHM) in the country. He speaks about his job with a passion and tells many stories about the role he plays in ensuring that his community has better access to healthcare. One of his success stories Dlamini is eager to share is that he has helped his community to reduce the number of home deliveries as a way of implementing the Early Identification and Intervention (EII) of Children With Disabilities (CWD) Strategy.

“Giving birth at hospital reduces the chances of disabilities among children,” he says.

Dlamini is one of the beneficiaries of the EII training, which the Swaziland Network Campaign for Education for All (SWANCEFA) facilitated in 2016. 

As a CHM, Dlamini says he was trained to follow up on expecting mothers in the community as soon as he is aware of the pregnancy. He gets to know about pregnant women during home visits, which he makes throughout Mzinene and Mnyenyweni communities in Manzini.

“Once I’m told that a mother is expecting, I encourage her to attend antenatal care and to prepare for the delivery by ensuring that transport will be available when labor starts and that the baby’s clothes are ready,” he said.

Dlamini said identifying expecting mothers early in the pregnancy and encouraging them to attend antenatal care is one way of implementing the Strategy.

“The identification process starts at zero years, that is before the baby is born,” he says. “If the baby shows any signs of disability at an early stage, doctors can help correct that.”

As a leader for community health motivators at Mzinene, Dlamini says he has trained some of his peers on EII, which includes discouraging them from helping mothers deliver babies unless it is an emergency.

“Even during emergencies, the trainers advised us that the mother and baby should go to the hospital immediately to get medical attention because a lot could go wrong during and after the delivery,” says Dlamini.

He says he notices that, since he started following up on expecting mothers from the beginning, most of them end up at the delivery room in good time. His work does not end with the delivery of the baby; he follows up on the health of the infant and gives advice where he can. For instance, Dlamini advises mothers to ensure that everyone who touches their babies has clean hands.

“Whenever I notice something that does not add up about the baby, I inform the mother to visit the hospital,” he says.

His work is not without challenges though. Some parents do not visit a health facility soon enough because they lack money to take the child to the hospital.

“Some mothers are in abusive relationships and the abuse continues even when they fall pregnant. Some children end up with disabilities because of the abuse that their mothers go through during their pregnancies,’ he explains.

He is a champion for CWD. In his community, he has helped an 11-year-old girl who used to spend the day at home alone playing with dogs. The mother was married to a man who did not want the girl at his home. The child was staying with a relative who did not take good care of her. 

“I searched for the mother until found her and, without judging her, advised her about the condition of the girl. I think that must have worked because she has now taken away the child from the home where she was neglected,” he says.

He does not know, however, where the child is now.

We have an excellent teacher to child ratio at our school to ensure that each child receives the attention he or she needs

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