Uphill battle for autism awareness in South Africa - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Uphill battle for autism awareness in South Africa

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -

It's lunch time for 11-year-old Loyiso Mtshotshisa. And his mother is ready.

Loyiso has been having outbursts since he was born. He went through 10 schools in Johannesburg, South Africa, before he was diagnosed as autistic.

His mother, Siphokazi Mtshotshisa, says some people have called her son a devil child.

"Friends-- even educated ones-- they will recommend exorcist," she said.

The South African government acknowledged autism for the first time two months ago. Authorities say the next step is to invest money into treating the brain development disorder.

"Now we want specifically for kids with autism to be catered for so they can live normal lives," said Lumka Olifant of the Department of Social Development.

Living a normal life isn't easy for many of the estimated 1 in 88 South Africans born with autism. The government says some African communities here dismiss autistic behavior as witchcraft or devil possession.

Staff members at the Centre for Autism Research and Education, a private care center in Johannesburg, help autistic children learn to communicate and interact with others.

"For us, our doors are always open," said Krishen Samuel of the Centre for Autism Research and Education.

Open to South Africa's elite who can pay the almost $15,000 per year tuition.

The rest, mostly in rural areas, have few places to go to for help and rely on charity.

Loyiso's mother set up a charity to help her son and other autistic children.

Advocates are calling on the government to provide money to treat hundreds of thousands more.

Despite the half million South Africans thought to have autism, officials say there are only a few doctors in the country specialized to diagnose and treat the disorder.

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