Results of the Autism South African survey of 2016

Autism South Africa survey 2016

Not many people were aware of the survey that was done amongst the Professionals, Parents and Autistic Adults in 2016. However, I was able to get the results to share with you. You are also welcome to request it from ASA yourself.

Professional’s response – The professionals that participated was Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapists, Educators, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Tutors and Other.

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Parents’ response – Response was received from all 9 provinces, from parents, siblings and extended family members.

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Autistic Adults’ response – Response came from Adults between 30 and 59 from only 3 Provinces.

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What’s the Difference Between Executive Functioning Issues and ADHD?

If your child has an ADHD diagnosis, is being evaluated for ADHD, or even if you’re just doing research on the disorder, you might also hear that she could have problems with executive functioning. This can be confusing! They seem to be two different ways of describing the difficulties your child is having.

Simply put, executive functions are self-regulating skills. We all use them every day to do things like plan ahead, stay organized, solve problems and focus on what’s important. These are some of the same things kids with ADHD have trouble doing. So is there a difference between executive functioning issues and ADHD? And if so, what is it?

ADHD is a disorder that’s defined by three broad sets of behaviors or symptoms: inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Kids with ADHD have trouble doing things like paying attention, following directions, sitting quietly and waiting for their turn.

Children are diagnosed with ADHD if they demonstrate these symptoms much more often than other children their age do, and so much so that and it’s causing them real difficulty at school and in their lives.

Executive functions, on the other hand, are very specific ways that the brain works. This means that things like inattention and impulsivity are divided into more distinct skills that kids typically develop during childhood and adolescence.

There are many individual functions, but they fit into these areas:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Setting priorities
  • Shifting between situations or thoughts
  • Controlling our emotions and impulsivity
  • Using working memory
  • Monitoring ourselves to keep track of how we’re doing

Researchers note that problems with executive functions can be seen in two different arenas. First, you see them in a child’s external behavior. Second, they affect kids internally, in how they think and learn. Let’s look at each of them separately.

External Issues

  • Being disorganized
  • Losing things all the time
  • Poor time management
  • Inability to complete a task
  • Inability to make a plan (and follow it)

Internal Issues

  • Difficulty deciding what’s important/unimportant when reading or listening
  • Problems absorbing/retaining what is taught in school
  • Problems understanding and following verbal directions
  • Problems organizing thoughts
  • Problems with clear, organized writing

Many kids who have ADHD do struggle with executive functioning. But it’s also possible for a kid to have executive functioning issues without having ADHD, or have ADHD without executive functioning issues.

How can this information help your child?

First, understanding if your child has executive functioning problems can help you support her more effectively. Seeing these things as specific skills, and figuring out which ones might be a problem for your child, makes it easier to understand why she’s struggling and how to help her.

Experts in executive functioning have developed tests and questionnaires to measure how well a child can perform specific functions. Those measures allow them to identify where each child needs the most assistance. Knowing this makes it easier for teachers to give your child more targeted help.

You can also work with a learning specialist who can teach her how to compensate for areas of weakness. Kids with executive functioning issues often need to create routines and use special techniques to do tasks that other kids do without thinking about it. A detailed breakdown also makes it possible to identify areas where a child is stronger. Then she can learn to use her strengths to compensate for weaknesses.

In some cases, knowing more about executive functions can also give you a deeper understanding of a child’s ADHD diagnosis.

“Applying the concept of executive functioning to ADHD can improve treatment by making the targets of intervention more specific and providing a better understanding of an individual child’s strengths and weaknesses,” explains Susan Schwartz, a learning and education specialist. “No two children are alike.”

Can medication help with executive functioning?

You might wonder: If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD and you’ve also been told he has executive functioning issues, does treating the ADHD with medication solve the executive functioning problems? The best answer we can come up with is yes and no.

Research shows clearly that use of ADHD medications lessens symptoms of inattention and impulsivity while a child is taking the medication. There are a lot of executive functions involved in those broad symptoms. But clinical experience also shows that many kids with ADHD, even if they’re taking medication, still need help to manage their executive functioning issues. Then they can do as well as they’re capable of in school and in other areas.

The good news? With extra help and focus on these areas, kids can accomplish a lot and let the world know how capable they are.

Learn more about strategies you can try at home to help kids with ADHD and executive functioning issues.

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Areas of Attention: Is My Child Developmentally Ready for Sustained Attention, Focus and Multitasking

5 Areas of Attention: Is My Child Developmentally Ready for Sustained Attention, Focus and Multitasking

This article provides helpful information regarding the 5 areas of attention. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.

A group of six-year-olds sit down during circle time to listen to their teacher read them a story. After 10 minutes, a majority of the kids are fidgeting, whispering to their neighbor, or seem to be daydreaming. Is this scene typical? Yes, this behavior is within normal expectations for this particular age group and is what we call “age appropriate.” All too quickly, many adults see a problem with how their child or other children are behaving or paying attention to activities in school, at home or during community events. Most children have a short attention span because their sustained attention has not yet developed. In fact, children at younger ages weren’t meant to sit still in class, attend and focus, and read and write before Kindergarten. Their brain development is not yet ready or prepared for this type of learning as we learn in the Huffington Post’s “4 Things Worse than Not Learning to Read in Kindergarten.”

5 Areas of Attention: Is My Child Developmentally Ready for Sustained Attention, Focus and Multitasking |

To gain a more accurate picture of how long children can physically pay attention, think of their age as a guideline or a starting point. A child should be able to retain their visual and auditory attention for approximately 5 minutes if they are 5-years-old, 6 minutes if they are 6-years old, 7 minutes if they are 7-years-old, and so on. If an activity or event is interesting or new to your child, the number of minutes for sustained attention increases substantially. Typically, during the preschool years, and all the way through first grade, parents and teachers try to be creative when finding new ways to get their kids motivated and interested in a particular subject. After your child’s interest is sparked, their time frame of attention goes up and the child has more opportunities to gather knowledge. Visual cues also play a huge role in how your child maintains their attention and can improve it if they struggle to retain information or have trouble following directions.

5 Areas of Attention

In Kenneth Lane’s book, Visual Attention in Children, he discusses the five areas of attention and how they all relate to visual observation and how a child responds to stimuli within their environment (sound, sight, smell, taste, touch). These five areas of attention differ from Types of Attention, but they can still be related, especially if your child struggles with attention and focus.

As your child develops, their attention span will grow, which will help you determine if their behavior is age appropriate or potentially delayed. When attention and focus is difficult for a child in the classroom, and their friends and peers are able to sustain their attention, it may be a sign that they need help in areas of proprioception, vestibular, visual and gross motor. To better help you understand your child’s attention milestones you can monitor them in these five areas of attention to determine how they are performing in each area.

5 Areas of Attention: Is My Child Developmentally Ready for Sustained Attention, Focus and Multitasking |

Focused Attention

This first area is your child’s basic response to specific visual (sight), auditory (hearing) or tactile (touch) stimuli. It is your child’s brain function that allocates cognitive resources to focus on external or internal information or stimuli. With that focus, the brain can process the data. Your child’s attention span is their ability to keep their mind focused through attentive observation or active listening. By providing visual cueing opportunities for your child, you can increase the efficiency of your child’s focus and attention on external information. Visual cues can be used to direct attention, emphasize, or enhance a position in place or target. For instance, a bold or underlined word, a laser pointer directed to a part of a presentation, or a flashing sign in a busy city. These types of visual cues are everywhere in our world. Your child is automatically attracted to these types of visual cues seen and processed through their visual system.

Selective Attention

This type of attention is your child’s ability to select from multiple factors or stimuli and focus on one item. It is selective process that occurs because the child is actively filtering out other distractions. Selective attention takes practice for your child to ignore all unneeded distractions, which is difficult if they struggle with issues like Sensory Processing Disorders because they are so sensitive to background noise and chatter. Remember that selective concentration not only filters out external influence (e.g., noise), but also internal information (e.g., thoughts).

Example: When a child is required to read and comprehend in a loud classroom, they must have the ability to filter out distractions so they can focus on their reading material.

5 Areas of Attention: Is My Child Developmentally Ready for Sustained Attention, Focus and Multitasking |

Shifting Attention

Another term for this area of attention is alternating attention. This type of attention is when your child has the ability to shift their focus and move between two or more tasks that have different cognitive requirements. It is different from multitasking because your child must stop one task to focus on a completely different task. It is interesting to watch a child’s attention develop as they begin to have the mental flexibility to practice this type of attention. They will get more proficient in being able to alternate their attention back and forth between tasks.

Example: Reading a recipe and completing the tasks of the recipe.

Sustained Attention

This type of attention is what your child needs to focus on a task for a long period of time. It is the ability to concentrate on one activity or stimulus for a continuous stretch of time. It can be challenging not only for a child, but for an adult as well, especially if the task is boring or undesirable. Consequently, a child’s level of sustained attention will vary. There are endless factors that contribute to the degree of how long a child can hold their focus. In one study, the maternal behavior towards a toddler or child was a major factor in the length and stability of a child’s sustained attention. A key aspect of this type of attention is the capacity to re-focus if distracted.

Example: A child focused on a teacher discussing a new concept in math. Visual and auditory attention must be sustained on the teacher and the math concepts being introduced.

5 Areas of Attention: Is My Child Developmentally Ready for Sustained Attention, Focus and Multitasking |

Divided Attention

This area of attention is where a child can process two or more responses to two or more demands simultaneously. People are not mentally designed to attend in this manner, which makes sharing attention difficult. Unlike shifting attention, where you change from one task to a completely different task, using divided attention means that you attempt to perform the tasks at the same time. Another term for this area of attention is multi-tasking. When this type of attention is needed, your child focuses only a part of their attention on each task. In a sense, they are splitting their attention versus alternating attention. Your child is able to multi-task successfully due to muscle memory and habit. This muscle memory and/or habit allows your child to complete a part of the task without conscious effort, while also focusing their energy on another task or other part of the task, which makes it seem like they are doing more than one task simultaneously.

Example: A child reading sheet music while playing the piano. Your child is not consciously focusing on where to place their fingers if the muscle memory is in place from prior practice and experience. The focus then shifts to reading the piece of music.

Attention is often the beginning of other cognitive capacities. Your child must first learn how to attend and progress to sustained attention so he or she can process the information for meaning and understanding. If your child cannot physically attend or if they have to concentrate on attending over learning in the classroom, it is a sign that they may be delayed or struggling in other areas. Eventually, sustained attention should lead to learning with a purpose.

Hats and Heels Breakfast well supported – Els for Autism

Hats and Heels Breakfast well supported

Mrs Bokang Tshabalala, a former Miss South Africa.

Glendower Country Club and host of the BMW SA Open also hosted the Hats and Heels champagne breakfast this morning.

The event was held in aid of Els for Autism South Africa.

Golf heavyweight and ambassador of the SA Open Ernie Els launched Els for Autism South Africa in 2009, after his son was diagnosed with the condition.

Surf, autism and a dog

Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment! This video will amaze you!


Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment
Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment

Ricochet’s new Waves of Empowerment (WOE) program is about inspiring and empowering kids with special needs, people with disabilities and military with PTSD to help themselves by helping others. These are individuals that Ricochethas previously surfed or worked with, who are now volunteering to help the next wave of disabled surfers get on board with her.

Children with special needs are matched with military with PTSD for the surf session. 10 year old West has autism and first surfed with Ricochet in 2013. He used to be afraid of water and dogs until Ricochet helped him overcome his fears. He was matched with Adaptive Jim who recently lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.

West’s transformation was so remarkable, he became Ricochet’s “junior water handler” and is now helping other surfers with disabilities catch waves with her. West took Jim under his wing to show him how to ride with her.

Things didn’t go exactly the way West had planned, but an incredible bond formed between the helper and the surfer.

For kids with autism, making eye contact can be difficult. This slow motion video shows a very deliberate interaction between West and Ricochet. As soon as they jumped off the board, Ricochet looked at West and didn’t take her eyes off him until he made eye contact with her. Although it was only for a second, it was powerful communication. Then, and only then did Ricochet feel West was safe and she ran to the beach.

Dogs and autism
Dogs and autism

One of the effects of autism, PTSD and other disabilities is social isolation. We provide a safe environment where participants and volunteers are embraced with an abundance of compassion, encouragement and positivity. We focus on facilitating engagement and building new relationships which fosters camaraderie and belonging.

Everyone involved is developing relationships with each other as they are working side-by-side. They tend to start interacting more, their social skills improve and their compassion & empathy are enhanced.

Relationships between the kids also blossoms. 13 year old Ian (on the left) first surfed with Ricochet in 2009. He suffered a brain injury in a horrific car crash that claimed the lives of his parents. He was afraid to go back in the water afterwards, but Ricochet gave him the confidence to conquer the waves. 

West’s mom said that four years ago she would have described her son as a “hermit” and “pretty severely impaired”. But now West (on the right) is eager to talk with others and makes friends readily.

Six year old Sasha has autism. Kids with special needs typically have an adult supervising them at all times. But when they surf with Ricochet, it’s often the first time they’ve done something completely on their own, which can be very empowering for them.

Bonds between the kids & military are powerful. Randy, is a veteran with PTSD who worked with Ricochet in the Paws’itive Teams Canine Inspired Community Re-Integration program. The bond between Randy and West is unbreakable.

If you are an active duty service member or veteran that would like to volunteer to help Ricochet surf with kids who have special needs, or if you’d like to become a volunteer, or if you have a disability, PTSD or a child with special needs that would like to surf with Ricochet, please send an email to
In addition to our veteran and disabled volunteers, we are always looking for water men and women, photographers, videographers, cheerleaders and friends! Just send us an email if you’d like to volunteer in any capacity.

For additional information and to follow Ricochet on social media, click the links below:

Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment!
Surf dog & boy with autism help disabled kids catch waves of empowerment!

Photo & video credit:
Barb McKown
Jordan Hedrick
Vernon Gilmore

When back to school is not cool

When back to school isn’t cool

For many children, the start of the school year is an exciting opportunity to socialise or an inconvenient return to reality. But how do you cope if your child resists school or hates it completely?

Leading human behaviour expert Dr John Demartini has some advice for parents struggling with their child’s Back to School Blues. His first piece of advice: you will never do anything ‘wrong’.

“Every child loves to learn. They simply love to learn what inspires and is important to them. If your child cannot see how the classes they are taking in their school, or how the children at their school are helping them fulfil what is most important and meaningful to them, they will resist going to school and resist attending their classes.

“Children open up to and embrace learning when it helps them fulfil what they love to master. They deserve to be respected for their individual values and not be put into a herd position of conforming to the world of a drone. Their genius becomes awakened the moment they see how their classes are going to help them achieve what they desire to achieve.”

Dr Demartini speaks from personal experience. Burdened with mild physical deformities and dyslexia, John Demartini was regarded as an illiterate no-hoper from a very young age. Consequently, he resisted the classroom environment and eventually left school completely at age 14. It wasn’t until his late teens that he returned to school with a renewed sense of self-belief and an inspired desire for education. Now, after 40 years of continual study and research, Dr Demartini is regarded as one of the world’s most prominent polymaths.

He offers the following advice to anyone parenting a struggling student:

Perfection is a fantasy

“If you live within a fantasy world where everything is supposed to be happy, easy, peaceful, safe and agreeable, you are vulnerable to the major let-down when your fantasy is broken by the reality of life,” Dr Demartini remarks. Help your child understand that life is always in balance and that every challenging situation serves a purpose in their development.

Support and challenge is key

One UK study found that over-protective parenting is as damaging to a child’s wellbeing as harsh or negative parental styles. The answer, according to Dr Demartini, is to allow – or even encourage – your child to face challenge, and balance it with loving parental support. “Everyone needs a balance of support and challenge to help them maximally grow”, he explains.

Understand your child’s value system and work with it

“If you want to support your child, it is vital that you are aware of their highest values,” Dr Demartini advises. In order to establish an individual’s unique set of values, Dr Demartini has devised a set of 13 questions, including: How do they fill their space? How do they spend their time? How do they spend their energy? How do they spend their money? “Learn your child’s highest values and discuss with them how school assists in fulfilling those vital needs.”

Empower your child against bullies

According to Dr Demartini, bullies serve a very important purpose – they can highlight where your child is disempowered. “If you’ve got a bully in your life and he’s pushing you around, it’s partly because you’re not guiding or governing your own life. You’re not empowered in that area. Once you empower that area, the bully disappears. If you don’t empower yourself, the bully just keeps coming in to toughen you up, to make you stronger, so you empower that area. That bully can awaken your inner hero because he is actually helping you empower yourself.”

For more information, visit

Back to school

Happy New Year, everyone! Hope 2017 brings many adventures and blessings. 

In South Africa, January is back to school for many kids. But it can also be tough on our kiddo.

Here is an article I wish to share.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Do you remember a teacher who changed your life for the better? Many people do, and scores of studies suggest that positive student-teacher relationships are one of the best predictors of children’s academic success.

But young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are less likely to develop positive relationships with their teachers than typically developing kids do, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. This exacerbates an already challenging transition into elementary school for these children.  The researchers hope that by understanding—and ultimately improving—these relationships, educators can support children with ASD in their early school years and help them make long-term gains in their academic, behavioral, and social adjustment…