UKZN TO TAKE LEAD ROLE IN DEVELOPING AUTISM TREATMENT SKILLS
UKZN’s School of Audiology, Occupational Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology is set to take the lead in the skills development of health and education professionals responsible for treating autism.
UKZN will be the first university to offer a Master’s of Medical Science Degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) from next year.
The School’s plan to devise both the master’s degree and the post graduate diploma in ASD in September last year was the brainchild of Professor Leana Uys, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences in response to an increase in the number of children diagnosed with the disorder.
Autism South Africa’s statistics show a child is born with the disorder every two hours in the country thereby increasing the demand for qualified health professionals to treat the disorder.
Ms Jenny Pahl, a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, says autism is a “spectrum of conditions characterised by widespread abnormalities of social interaction and communication, rigidity of thought and a limited repertoire of interests with stereotyped behaviours, and with hyper or hypo sensitivities and sensory integration difficulties”.
Professor Robin Joubert, Head of the School of Audiology, Occupational Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology, said the master’s programme with its strong research component would generate new information on the treatment of ASD.
“It is great for our School and UKZN to be the first Higher Education institution in South Africa to offer a master’s degree and post graduate diploma in autism spectrum disorder. It gives us tremendous satisfaction to train professionals to attend to a major problem (ASD),” said Professor Joubert. “Professionals who obtained this degree could also become lecturers who are likely to train others,” added Professor Joubert.
Speech-language specialists, occupational therapists, educators and psychologists who work with autistic children are professionals who should consider pursuing the two-year master’s programme comprising six core modules and a research component.
Designing the course content was an inclusive process comprising an advisory board of local experts, members of Autism SA and parents of children with autism. The expertise of academics from the University of Massachusetts and Yale University in the United States, which run similar courses, contributed to the programmes.
Ms Pahl said introducing the postgraduate courses would provide the necessary interventions to address the challenges South Africa faced in treating ASD which she identified as the late diagnosis of children with autism, the lack of autism-specific interventions, lack of professionals to treat autism and access to affordable treatment.
Creating a resource centre with educational material for parents of children with autism is a long term goal of the project. While the current academic programme will focus on skills provision for professionals who treat children, Professor Joubert suggested future plans to include a stream that would take into consideration skilling professionals to treat adults with ASD.
Increasing the volume of research publications and continued development of health care professionals treating ASD through short courses are among the envisaged benefits of the master’s programme.
Department of Education approval for the Master’s of Medical Science Degree in ASD and the Post Graduate Diploma in ASD is expected soon.