Golf for Autism making a difference in an indifferent world

29 April 2021 | Society

April is dedicated to autism awareness. In Namibia, the Autism Association – established in 2000 – spearheads various fundraisers to train children, parents, teachers and professionals and aims to roll out an inclusion policy together with government.
We live in a world where we expect that the public should actively be more inclusive and mindful that our differences should be celebrated. That being said, the Association run by volunteers, is set on celebrating autistic Namibians and ensuring that they are supported along with their families to live meaningful lives.
In light of this, Nedbank Namibia launched the Autism for Golf Series that aims to raise awareness and funds for the Autism Association of Namibia. The series comprises ten events, which started in February and will end in November, taking place across Namibia.
Last weekend, the Nedbank team were in Tsumeb for the fourth stop of the golf series which aims to both raise funds and bring awareness about autism.

‘Lack of understanding’
Petra Dillmann, chairperson of the Autism Association of Namibia, says that there is a lack of understanding for autistic individuals.
“At least 80% of autistics do not have an intellectual disability, more often I have found that they challenge what is considered to be conventional thinking. I have learnt to observe the person for whom they are and not stare at the stereotypes, as you miss out on meeting fascinating individuals with insights, candid questions and reflections.”
She shares that 1 in 110 persons worldwide are on the autism spectrum, a reality for many parents and adults in Namibia. This is why the Autism Association creates awareness, provides training and are rallying the call for more Namibians to “Show you Care - Be Autism Aware.”
World Autism Day is celebrated worldwide on 2 April each year.
Autism affects people differently; some are severely affected whilst others have exceptional abilities.

Diagnostic manual
According to the Autism Association of Namibia, the diagnostic manual states that it is a developmental disorder, the cause of which is unknown. It has an overall influence on development, on multiple levels throughout the lifespan. It usually manifests during the first three years of life, but is often picked up only when children go to pre-school or start school where they have to follow the ‘norm’.
The educational options in Namibia are very limited because of the feeling that autistics must go to a special school. “That is a myth” says Petra. “Namibia underwrites inclusive education; thus all children should go to mainstream schools, which should have accommodations for their disability in place. This is not happening, classes too full, teachers don’t know how to work with autistic or disabled children and more.”
The prevalence of autism in Namibia is not uncommon, and parents with autistic children often find themselves glared or sneered at, with inappropriate comments about their “undisciplined children” coupled with judging stares.
The reality that parents lovingly deal with daily is not considered by a society that has no understanding and no empathy. Some of the most hurtful experiences for families are when those near and dear, shun them away or label children on the spectrum as being badly behaved.
Petra continues by saying, “Many autistic children have been misdiagnosed as having attention deficit, hyperactivity, schizophrenia and other related disorders. However, new trends suggest that the focus should not merely be on the autism diagnosis but rather view the person as whole with various co-occurring difficulties such as anxiety, sensory processing disorder, attention problems and more. Autism research in the African context has been found to be uneven and inconclusive, but several research projects are looking into Africa and how autism is diagnosed.”

More than a fundraiser
For the Nedbank Namibia team, the annual golf series – now in its third year – is more than a fundraiser. “There is certainly a great need in our community to support persons with autism, from children to adults. Our differences do not define us, it is the very spark of human nature that unites us. Playing our part in building an inclusive society, where no one is left behind, is what we hope to achieve,” says Selma Kaulinge, Communication and PR Manager at Nedbank Namibia.
Nedbank commends the work of the Autism Association and calls on Namibians to support their work in creating awareness and encouragement to those living with autism in our country.

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