Life With Autisism


 This Is My Story…………..


Life as a child has not been as I wished it to be. From a very young age my parents have been struggling as they had no idea why I behaved this way or what could possibly be the reason why I have not been progressing at school as other children did. My parents decided to send me to a doctor and was then referred to a psychologist as I presented signs of autism. After many tests it was then confirmed that I have autism which led to also having a learning challenge. My journey as a young boy was so different to that of other boys. As a result, my mum had to watch me very closely.

I went to Quest High School and there I felt as if I did not belong. After some time my brother saw how unhappy I was, he then helped me find a school that would cater for my disability. That is when I learnt about this academy, I Can! I applied and went through the application process. The day I was informed of starting at I Can!, I was excited but also nervous at the same time. Scared in terms of: would I like it there and would the other learners accept me. I was always so self-conscious and always tried so hard fitting in. This academy has been one of the best things that has ever happened in my life. I am so confident, I have friends and above all I can be myself. The best part was winning best dressed at the Valentines competition as I have never won anything in my life and I was not afraid to step up and go collect my prize. I had such a huge smile on my face, truly one of the best days of my life. I could not believe that this was me and how my life has changed.

I am grateful for this opportunity of being surrounded by such amazing people. Having a learning challenge has its ups and downs but it should not limit you or discourage you from living your dreams. I for one have not, this has allowed me to dream, be more confident, gain experience and become a better man.

By Unathi Magwa, 19

I Can Students Giving Back

The students in the East London Academy made a humbling request by asking if they, as an academy, could visit one of the neighbouring children’s home. They wanted to give back to the community and be in a position of being a Giver rather than being the Receiver. I remember them saying, “Mam, people always donated things to us, so we want to donate now and show appreciation of what we have because of I Can”. The staff members were thrilled.

This past summer, the campus went to Sunshine Child & Youth Care Centre. We donated food that was bought and donated by the students themselves. This gesture was one that both inspired and motivated the staff as we realised that the perceptions of our students are changing. They are learning to be more independent and said “Personal Finance taught us to budget so we can buy some stuff for the children”.

Understandably, taking pictures with the children was forbidden therefore the only pictures taken were that of the student’s.

I am proud to say that the difference I Can is making in these students’ lives has instilled in them a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others, especially in the children at Sunshine Child and Youth Care Centre. We will continue to give to those who are less fortunate this coming winter.

Busisa Nokama
Academy Supervisor – East London

International Autism Day

On 2 April, the world celebrated International Autism Day.

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the name given to four previously separate disorders, now recognized to be a single condition with different levels of symptom severity. ASD now encompasses autism, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder.

ASD is characterized by:

  1. Deficits in social communication and social interaction
  2. Restricted repetitive behaviours, interests and activities
  3. There is often some degree of sensory processing disorder, typically either over-reactive (e.g. dislike being touched) or under-reactive (e.g. bangs objects, enjoys vibration)
  4. Symptoms are present in the early developmental period of life (typically the first 3 years of life)
  5. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social and occupational areas of life

The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.

ASD is primarily a social disability which presents early in life and presents with infinite variations within the spectrum. It can occur in individuals of all levels of intelligence.

Perhaps ASD is best described by Dr. Mary Temple Grandin (born August 29, 1947), an American professor, a best-selling author, an autistic activist and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. She also invented the “hug box“, a device to calm those on the autism spectrum.

“I find great value and meaning in my life and have no wish to be cured of being myself. If you want to help me then don’t try to change me to fit into your world. Grant me the dignity of meeting me on my own terms, recognize that we are equally alien to each other …, work with me to build more bridges between us.” – Temple Grandin (1999)

Compiled by:
Rowan Robinson
Manager: Agriculture and Special Projects

Changes at Kempton Park Academy

“Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad — not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life — to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested. … Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull.” — Dr. Dennis O’Grady

At the Kempton Park Academy we embrace change with both hands… the following are some changes that had taken place…

New Office Space

After waiting for almost a year, Kempton Park staff have finally moved in to their new office space. Since May 2014 our National Recruitment Manager as well as our own Operations Manager have been juggling offices after the Gauteng regional office was moved to the new Braampark Academy in Johannesburg.

The good news is that we have now moved into our new space, our managers have settled and we have an additional two classes! These classes have been colour coded: Pink – I Can! Clean and Green: I Can! Learn.

The new space includes a very conveniently placed reception area as well as a large sheltered area outside for the learners to relax in. There is a private kitchen and extra ablution facilities for the learners.

Petronella Mthethwa
Academy Supervisor
Kempton Park

World Down Syndrome Day – 21 March 2015

People with Down syndrome are odd looking, weird and they are definitely not normal like us. This is the thoughts of many ignorant people…to that, we at I Can! ask what is normal???? There is no such thing, we are all made to be unique and special and there is nobody else like you!

Whether you are black or white, fat or skinny, have big feet or tiny hands… people should embrace their differences and limitations and be more accepting of others. We should celebrate the strengths of ourselves, as well as others.

Individuals with Down Syndrome have a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21 and they have physical characteristics such as low muscle tone, small stature and an upward slant to the eyes. They also experience varying degrees of cognitive delays, from very mild to severe, most delays however, are mild to moderate.

Yes, this condition does affect their quality of life as they have certain limitations, but more so the attitudes and ignorance of people are their biggest disability. With the right support and encouragement these individuals, as with any individual, can aspire to reach their dreams. There are people with Down Syndrome who have become actors, Paralympic athletes and even artists. The possibilities are endless if given the chance.

The 21st of March marks Human Rights Day in South Africa, but we also celebrated Odd Socks day which is held to raise awareness about Down Syndrome. Our learners enjoyed dressing up in their odd socks and letting their “freak flag” fly so to speak.

I would just like to end off this article by saying different is normal, everybody has something that makes them unique and sets them apart from everybody else! Accept it! Embrace it! Love it!

Odd socks. They may be odd, but they are still socks!

Nikki McMahon
Academy Supervisor

Down Syndrome Month

Down syndrome or Down’s syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability. The average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50, equivalent to the mental age of an 8 or 9 year old child, but this varies widely.

Down syndrome can be identified during pregnancy by prenatal screening followed by diagnostic testing, or after birth by direct observation and genetic testing. Since the introduction of screening, pregnancies with the diagnosis are often terminated. Regular screening for health problems common in Down syndrome is recommended throughout the person’s life.

Most individuals with Down Syndrome have mild (IQ: 50–70) or moderate (IQ: 35–50) intellectual disability with some cases having severe (IQ: 20–35) difficulties. Those with mosaic Down Syndrome typically have IQ scores 10–30 points higher. As they age, people with Down Syndrome typically perform less well compared to their same-age peers. Some after 30 years of age may lose their ability to speak. This syndrome causes about a third of cases of intellectual disability. Many developmental milestones are delayed with the ability to crawl typically occurring around 8 months rather than 5 months and the ability to walk independently typically occurring around 21 months rather than 14 months.

Commonly, individuals with Down Syndrome have better language understanding than ability to speak. Between 10% and 45% have either a stutter or rapid and irregular speech, making it difficult to understand them.

To really understand Down Syndrome – rather watch this video clip. The syndrome is explained and described by the experts!

People with Down Syndrome can live a happy and fulfilling life if they are given the love and care that they deserve. Ask us, we know!

Nalini Cuppusamy
Recruitment Consultant

“If you can dream it, You can do it”

“If you can dream it, you can do it” has been the driving force behind the life of Tim Harris from Tim’s Place (a diner found in New Mexico).

Born in 1986 with Down Syndrome, Tim’s life has been defined by exceeding expectations and inspiring those around him. “I’m here to change the world with hugs” he says. Tim’s Big Heart Foundation (TBHF) is a non-profit corporation that aims to inspire people from all over the world with disabilities to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives via entrepreneurship and inclusion in their communities.

We look at our very own non-profit organization EmployAbility-Vulindlela (opening the way) which is a registered Section 21 Company that focuses on supported employment for persons with disability. EmployAbility-Vulindlela has the vision that person with disabilities will be accepted for their abilities rather than their disabilities. To this end we focus on the successful integration of people with intellectual disabilities into the mainstream labour market.

Anyone with the right support, can achieve their dreams.

Natascha Mc Allister
Operations Manager

A Message from our MD

A Message from our MD

On the 21 March 2015 we celebrated World Down Syndrome Day.

14 years ago I was blessed to have a child with Down Syndrome. From the very first minute that I saw and held Jamie I had this overwhelming love for him. The most difficult thing for me to deal with was the negativity of “professionals”. I was told about all of the things my child would never be able to do and all of the medical conditions that may occur due to him having Down Syndrome. My husband and I even had a medical doctor tell us that having a child with Down Syndrome often resulted in divorce!

What I can tell you is that none of the above is true! My child CAN do many things and he has been as healthy as our other children. He has taught my husband and I and our other children the most amazing lessons that we would not have learnt if we did not have him in our lives.

I Can! is in existence because of this amazing boy! Because of Jamie, I work with the most amazing people and we as a team are able to make an incredible difference in over 600 people with disabilities lives.

People with Down Syndrome CAN work, learn, swim, run, play and most importantly contribute in a meaningful way to society. Don’t let your own preconceived ideas restrict them. Give them a chance and you will be amazed at what you see!

Ali Smeeton
MD of I Can!



Epilepsy comes from the ancient Greek verb “to seize possess or afflict”. The disorder is typically characterized by epileptic seizures which can vary from almost undetectable spasms to violent shaking and uncontrollable movements. The seizures tend to recur and are more common as people age. About 5-10% of all people will have an unprovoked seizure by the age of 80!

The causes of epilepsy are largely unknown, although the disorder may be a result of a brain injury, stroke, brain tumour or drug and alcohol abuse. Commonly, epileptic seizures are controlled with medication although in some instances dietary changes can be beneficial too.


Seizures can be characterized into different types: convulsive seizures can be either generalized or partial and an example of non-convulsive seizures include absence seizures (which presents as a decreased level of consciousness and only lasts for seconds).

First Aid Management:

1. Always stay with the person until the seizure is over
• Seizures can be unpredictable and it’s hard to tell how long they may last or what will occur during them. Some may start with minor symptoms, but lead to a loss of consciousness or fall. Other seizures may be brief and end in seconds.
• The person having the seizure may injure themselves and may need extra assistance from other people

2. Pay attention to the length of the seizure
• The seizure should NOT last more than 5 minutes
• Note how long it takes the person to recover and return to their usual activity
• Stay calm! Most seizures only last a few minutes. Do not panic as this may cause others to panic. Reassure the person having the seizure (this also helps to reassure yourself!)

3. Prevent injuries by moving nearby objects out of the way

4. Make the person as comfortable as possible
• Help them to sit down in a safe place
• Try and place them in the recovery position (on their side with the mouth pointing down)
• Support their head to prevent it from hitting the floor

5. Do not put anything into the person’s mouth
• It is impossible to swallow your own tongue, even when you are having a seizure
• If you put something into the mouth of the person having the seizure, they will most likely bite it. This could be disastrous if it happens to be your fingers.

6. Make sure that their breathing is okay
• It may look as if their breathing has stopped for awhile and the person may even turn blue. This is because the chest muscles tighten during a specific phase in the seizure. As this part of the seizure ends, the muscles will relax again and breathing will resume although it may be a bit ragged and uneven at first

7. Do not give the person any water, food or pills by mouth until they are fully alert
• The person may swallow incorrectly and choke

8. Be sensitive and supportive and ask others to do the same
• Seizures can be frightening for everybody and also embarrassing for the person experiencing one. Remember this when they wake up.


• A seizure lasts 5 minutes or longer.
• One seizure occurs right after another without the person regaining consciousness or coming to between seizures.
• Seizures occur closer together than usual for that person.
• Breathing becomes difficult or the person appears to be choking.
• The seizure occurs in water.
• Injury may have occurred.
• The person asks for medical help.

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter | MD
Reviewed by: Patricia O. Shafer RN MN on 2/2014

Compiled by Rowan Robinson
Manager: Agriculture and Special Project

Brain Injuries

Our brain defines who we are but, the consequences of a brain injury can affect all aspects of our lives, including our personality.

A brain injury is very different from breaking a bone. The body is able to rebuild bone by producing new cells and tiny blood vessels which close up the break until it’s as good as new. However, brain injuries do not heal like other injuries. Recovery is a functional recovery, based on mechanisms that remain uncertain.

Since our brain defines who we are, one of the unfortunate consequences of brain injury is that the person often does not realize that a brain injury has occurred. We saw this with one of our learners who had been involved in a serious car accident. He sadly remembered his life only before the accident and what he was capable of. He remembered that he was an Engineering student, but struggled to accept that he no longer could continue in this field. This disorientation affected his ability to function on a daily basis. Staff members at I Can! were able to find him a suitable psychiatrist who was able to stabilize him. We are delighted to report that he is improving daily to the point where he acknowledges his injury and has learnt not only to accept it, but to manage life around his disability.

Natascha Mc Allister
Operations Manager – KZN