Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

Children's Assessment & Therapy Centre

Our saturday programme and what we've learned so far

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Caring and protection of particularly vulnerable groups | 9 November, 2012 - 09:10


Programme Description:

Our work is to identify developmental delays and barriers to learning in children as early as possible in order to provide appropriate therapeutic support.  We do this to ensure that they reach their potential and succeed at school, so that one day they can take their place as an independent, contributing members of South African society. Our Centre was started about 40 years ago and we offer multidisciplinary services to all cultural groups in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa and Sotho.

About 14 years ago, it became evident that many parents, particularly those in the lower-income groups were finding it difficult to access our services on weekdays as they would lose income if they took time off work to bring their child to the centre and often lived too far away. Therefore we made a policy decision to open a Saturday Morning Program in 1997. This program started very small and only operated from about 8-11 am on Saturdays. However, over the past 5 years, it has grown and is fully booked 3 weeks in advance. Often the amount of work done on a Saturday Morning outstrips any weekday. Up until now the major constraints are therapists available to work on Saturdays and office accommodation.

A wide range of assessment and therapy services are offered at the Centre's premises in Harris Crescent, Sherwood, Durban from 7:30-1:30pm on Saturdays with the following varied specific objectives:

  • There are intelligence assessments to establish overall cognitive potential, as well as strengths and weaker areas, indicators of learning disabilities and concentration issues. Petit mal epilepsy is and related neurological factors are also detected during these assessments.
  • For children younger than 4 years an all-round developmental assessment is done to closely look at the various developmental domains and assess to what level the child is functioning age-appropriately, as well as flagging atypical behaviours. These help particularly in identifying children on the autistic spectrum as against a child who only has a severe language delay.
  • School readiness assessments indicate whether a pre-schooler has the language, gross/fine motor, perceptual, basic concept skills (e.g. body-image, colours, shapes and numbers) and emotional maturity to start formal schooling. The purpose is to institute supportive therapy and thus prevent scholastic failure which is damaging to their self-esteem.
  • Scholastic skills assessments show at what chronological age and grade level a child is functioning in reading, spelling, maths and written skills. This performance is matched against the child's intellectual potential to determine if he is reaching his potential or whether there is a significant gap indicating the need for remedial teaching and/or other therapies to close the gap or in some cases the need to be placed in a more appropriate learning environment.
  • Vocational assessments assist learners in making appropriate subject choices in Grade 10 with a view to making suitable career decisions.
  • Psychological assessments are geared to establish whether emotional, social, behavioural difficulties the child is experiencing are significant enough to justify therapeutic intervention. These assessments provide an extensive picture of the child's difficulties which guides therapy.  Sometimes these assessments, together with the intellectual assessment assist in the diagnosis of various syndromes and disorders, e.g. autism which then leads to appropriate interventions and educational placements.
  • Speech and language assessments  involve ascertaining quality of speech production, hearing screening, language reception and expression and auditory perceptual functioning.
  • Occupational therapy assessments look at gross/fine motor skills and visual perceptual skills with a special emphasis on their impact on scholastic skills such as reading, spelling, maths and handwriting.

The therapists use scientifically standardised measuring instruments (including culture fair tools) when assessing children. Results of assessments and therapeutic interventions are made available to parents/caregivers, schools and other relevant professionals in the form of detailed typed reports.

Arising out of assessments the following therapies & interventions are offered on Saturdays:

  • Psychotherapy/play therapy;
  • Parent/caregiver counselling;
  • Speech & language therapy,
  • Occupational therapy & referrals for paediatric/neurological assessments, visual/hearing assessments and appropriate school placements.

From December 2011 to May 2012, services were provided to 215 beneficiaries including children (aged 0-18+ years) and their parents, caregivers, childcare workers, students and professionals in related fields.  Most children are, at the very least, developmentally delayed and/or at grave risk of experiencing learning disabilities or having emotional and social difficulties. Many children have physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, cleft palates, hearing and visual impairments. Others have debilitating (genetic, congenital, metabolic or neurological) conditions and syndromes, such as Epilepsy, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Down Syndrome, severe premature birth, chronic life-threatening illnesses, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and hydrocephaly.

This program is aimed at assisting the most financially disadvantaged and at risk children. Thus, a substantial group of the children have been infected/affected by HIV/AIDS, several have been orphaned, or have suffered from abuse and deprivation and are being cared for in Child and Youth Care Centres, by foster parents, relatives or sometimes living in child-headed­ households. Others are being raised by single parents. Many are living in deleterious and dangerous circumstances, without adequate supervision, exposed to violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse and rape. Many of the children live in conditions of abject poverty and rely on a daily sandwich from community-led feeding schemes at the schools.

Our challenges and learnings

Based on our experience the model we have developed is effectively meeting an identified need. We are constantly looking at ways of improving it though, given that there are usually financial constraints and challenges in terms of the availability of suitable staff on Saturday mornings. We are currently building new, larger premises and plan to expand this Saturday Program in an effort to remain accessible, considering the prevailing needs of our beneficiaries and their parents or caregivers. The other challenge we will seek to overcome is the recruitment of more high-calibre professionals, especially those speaking African languages, who are available to work on Saturdays.

In brief what we have learned over the past 12 months

  • There is a need to increase our capacity to offer Speech and Language Therapy to African children in their mother tongue on Saturday mornings.
  • There is a need for increased supportive interventions, in particular  Speech and Language Therapy for children on the autistic spectrum  on Saturday mornings.
  • It is anticipated that once our new buildings are completed in April 2013 and we are able to enrol more children on the autistic spectrum in our pre-school, that we will increasingly become recognised as an important resource for families with such children. This would lead to a greater demand for therapies on Saturday mornings.
  • We should continue to strengthen our links and networking with parallel, related and similar resources, such as Action in Autism, in order to share knowledge and skills and prevent waste of resources through unnecessary duplication
  • We should source specific funding to conduct research on the efficacy of this program. At present our evaluation rests on re-assessments after a period of therapy and tracking a child progress after assessment in a more anecdotal way and taking into account letters of commendation from parents, schools and other colleagues, as well as sometimes criticisms or suggestions as to how we can improve our services.

Children's Assessment & Therapy Centre

27 Harris Crescent, Sherwood, Durban  

 (031) 208-5117

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