You just have to ask. Help is available
Tershia Louw, mother to 7-year old Diondré, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was an infant, says she is still learning how to care for her special girl.
Louw sees herself as a strong individual, raising three other children – one of whom is an orphan – but she says she has learned to accept help.
“I thought I didn’t need help. Then we heard about Iris House. We bring Diondre once a month, or if it’s full, once every three months. Then I can relax and do what I need to do at home. You just have to ask, there is a lot of support available. If you ask a social worker, they can refer you to a facility that can help. There are many places you can go to, we as parents of children with special needs just have to ask.”
Anthea Gawler says raising her adult daughters – Caron, who suffers from a rare genetic condition Phenylketonuria, and Amy, who has down syndrome – is something she wouldn’t trade for the world: “We have different challenges to parents of ‘healthy’ children. Everybody’s different. Special needs children just want to be accepted like anybody else. That’s all they ask for; they don’t ask for much. They go to the beach like everybody else, they want to be part of the fun. The difficult part is getting society to acknowledge that they’re also human. They have feelings just like us.”
“It’s not a burden, people just need to accept others with differences. I am thankful that the people in my road love my child. It’s greater society that’s the problem,” says Louw.
The Department of Social Development funds a range of Social Services Organisations (SSOs) across the Western Cape that specifically sees to the counselling needs of persons with disabilities and their families. These SSOs help more than 45 000 clients annually. For the 2022/2023 financial year, the DSD has allocated over R59 million for SSOs.
Iris House provides community respite services to families like Louw and Gawler, along with psychosocial support. There are other organisations providing services specific to disabilities, like Innovation for the Blind assists the visually impaired, while Carel du Toit is a school that works with hearing impaired children and their parents.
The DSD provides funding to all these organisations to employ social workers.
“The journey that social workers and special carers walk with parents of children with disabilities is crucial for the mental wellbeing of families. Our amazing staff and the NGOs that are providing this support should be lauded every day. Communities also have a part to play. If you know your neighbour has a child with special needs, offer to lend a hand where possible, or just sit and listen if they need to talk. Life would be so much easier if more of us practiced Ubuntu and had compassion for one another,” says Minister for Social Development Sharna Fernandez.
Staff can attest to the difference these support services make in the lives of the children and families.
Nolubabalo Mbola is the community lead at Iris House and is also the mother to two children on the autism spectrum: “It’s not easy. But I ended up accepting my children when I started working here. They are now 18 and 13, so I am now free to teach other parents and help them. I coached one mum and now her child is almost ready for school. I’ve helped many other parents as well to train with their children at home.”
Mbola says being the parent of a child with special needs is a lot of work, and families shouldn’t be afraid to seek help.
Some of the other services the Department provides, in partnerships with NPOs:
- Disability awareness and educational programmes;
- Developmental supportive and therapeutic services (social work interventions): counselling, support group programmes;
- Daycare programmes for adults and children with disabilities;
- Support programmes for families/caregivers; and
- Protective workshops services and residential care services.
To access more information about services offered by the Department, call our toll-free number on 0800 220 250, send an email to SD.CustomerCare@westerncape.gov.za or visit the department’s website: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/dept/social-development