Autism: 'a lesson in love'
Every parent tends to believe his child is gifted but for Ilse Kilian-Ross and Noel Ross their six-year-old daughter, Madison, is a gift - she has made them, they say, better human beings.
For many years the couple have struggled to find a school that will meet Madison's special needs. She was diagnosed with autism just over two years ago.
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder. It is a lifelong, complex condition characterised by reduced social skills.
After an emotional journey that she describes as a "roller-coaster ride of note", Kilian-Ross said she has a greater understanding of life, love and the world .
"I have learned what is real in life and what true love is. Autism reveals the real strength of any human being," she said.
But it has not always been easy for her and her husband to see the positive side of autism.
"We used to be a social couple but have lost many friends. We no longer get invited anywhere," Kilian-Ross said.
The complex and variable nature of the disorder makes it difficult to arrive at a reliable figure for its prevalence but it is estimated that autism affects as many as one in 88 children born in South Africa. Autism SA national educator Claire Allen said there are many unanswered questions about autism.
"Every day there is a new possible cause and, though a lot of research is being done, it is difficult to pinpoint the cause," said Allen.
By the time she was diagnosed, Madison had already been in two schools and had been rejected by one.
Her longest stay at a school was five months; her shortest five days.
Noel Ross said one of the greatest challenges of being the parent of a child with autism was finding a school that could cater for the child's special needs.
"Many people start autism-specific schools but not all of them are passionate.
"Sometimes it ends up just being about money," he said.
After two years of home schooling for their "angel", the family will open a school for autistic children in January.
Four children have enrolled at the school and there is space for 10 more. Kilian-Ross said she will hire three more teachers by December.
"We want young people who have a passion for children with autism," she said.
"We live an amazing life because of our amazing kid, with amazing talents.
"She may be different from what we thought she would be, but her future has led to us starting this amazing school."
Visit www.amazingk.co.za or contact Ilse on 083-230-5880