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 A GUARDIAN ANGEL FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM IN GA-RANKUWA

Thuso Montwedi

As we observe Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Awareness in April, it’s crucial to shine a spotlight on individuals like the 56-year-old Sr Sophy Mokgabodi whose dedication and passion is making a tangible difference in the lives of children living with autism in her community. 

Mokgabodi’s journey to becoming a nurse and advocate for children with ASD is nothing short of inspirational. Despite facing financial hardships, she persevered, working tirelessly as a cashier for 19 years to fund her nursing education. Her resilience and determination led her to pursue her dreams later in life, enrolling at Thuto Bophelo Nursing School in Pretoria.

However, it was a life-altering experience that truly ignited her passion for working with children with disabilities, particularly autism. A car accident left her with brain injuries, and during her recovery, she gained a profound understanding of the challenges faced by individuals with neurological conditions. This personal journey fueled her desire to learn more about the brain and how to support children with autism effectively.

Sr Mokgabodi’s commitment to enhancing her knowledge and skills led her to undergo specialised training with Autism South Africa, equipping her with invaluable insights into caring for children with ASD. Her expertise and dedication haven’t gone unnoticed; she’s become a trusted advisor not only to her colleagues at Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital but also to parents seeking guidance on how to navigate the complexities of raising a child with autism.

Recognising the need for ongoing support beyond the hospital setting, Sr  Mokgabodi took action! With the help of her colleagues, she established the Tshwaraganang Disability Care Centre in Ga-Rankuwa Zone 7. This home provides a nurturing environment for children with autism, offering tailored therapies and support services to meet their unique needs. 

“One autistic child is equal to 10 children because of the attention they demand, so I can say that we are currently looking after 140 children,” Mokgabodi reflects, shedding light on the profound dedication required to care of children living with autism. Her words underscore the immense responsibility she and her team bear at Tshwaraganang.

Mokgabodi and her team don’t just provide physical care to children with special needs but empower parents with the knowledge and skills needed to support their children effectively. From managing meltdowns to establishing routines and communication strategies, Sr Mokgabodi ensures that families feel supported every step of the way.

“I educate parents on how to raise and treat children with Autism. I open support groups where they share challenges and create a space where they get help.

Sr Mokgabodi’s commitment to empowering parents with knowledge and support is evident in every aspect of her work. Recognising the unique challenges that come with raising a child with autism, she emphasises the importance of community support and understanding. “Raising a kid with Autism is not easy; you need all the support you can get,” she explains, pointing out that many Autistic children struggle with speech which is a common challenge. However, she emphasised the power of alternative communication methods.  

“You can communicate with them through images and teach them how to understand each image as you present it to them. Creating a routine is also key, as consistency provides stability for children with autism. They children are easier to work with if you create a routine for them. You need to be consistent with your routine, or else you will battle to get it right with them,” she emphasised.  

Her advocacy extends beyond the confines of the care center; she is a vocal proponent for the establishment of specialised schools for children with Autism. She understands the importance of tailored education and support services to help these children thrive and reach their full potential.

Mokgabodi also addresses the often-overlooked issue of conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which can exacerbate behavioral challenges. “Some autistic children have ADHD and become hyperactive,” she notes. “This can pose challenges for parents, especially in public settings like transportation, where community members may not understand their needs.” Her advocacy extends beyond the care center as she strives to raise awareness and foster understanding in the broader community.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ASDs begin in childhood and tend to persist into adolescence and adulthood. With 01 in 160 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, the need for understanding and support has never been greater. While some individuals with ASD can live independently, others require lifelong care and support. Sr Mokgabodi’s work exemplifies the crucial role healthcare professionals play in providing this much-needed support and advocating for a more inclusive society.

SOURCED FROM THE GPG WEBSITE.

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