ECD centre for autistic children opens in Retreat

Karen Fraser and her daughter Terri Stevens opened a non-profit special needs school, focusing on autism, in Retreat, for disadvantaged communities.

A mother and daughter have teamed up to open a non-profit early childhood development (ECD) centre for children with autism spectrum disorder, at Jolly Carp, in Retreat.

The school caters for children from the age of 3 up to school placement or 9 years old, with operating times Monday to Friday, from 7.30am to 2.30pm.

Children with autism have been on a long waiting list for assessment and school placement.

Terri Stevens co-founder and administrator of Included early intervention and inclusive centre, and her mother and business partner, Karen Fraser, head of autism at Glenbridge Special School and Resource Centre, in Diep River, identified the need for intervention on a daily basis where children are added to the Western Cape Education Department’s waiting list for assessment and school placement.

Ms Stevens said GlenBridge, which covers Wynberg, Hout Bay, Simon’s Town and surrounding areas, right down the Muizenberg coastline including Pelican Park, Grassy Park and Lotus River, can only accept children at school going age and even then they don’t have enough space.

Ms Stevens said they started the school in 2018 with their first site in Ottery, and later moved to Wynberg and then Diep River but due to Covid and rental they closed down. They also opened a class in Fish Hoek in 2020 and have been operating from Milkwood Pre-Primary. They were able to partner up with the Jolly Carp and opened the Retreat school on Monday May 3.

“Our ratio is 1 adult per 4 learners. We are currently set up to accommodate 8 learners. We are planning to accommodate 24 learners by September,” said Ms Stevens.

She said the school services previously disadvantaged areas in the southern suburbs. “Although we specialise in autism we accept children with other different abilities.”

Ms Stevens said she had also experienced challenges in getting her son Eli, 9, who has oral motor dyspraxia, into a special needs school.

“We had such difficulty getting him diagnosed and placed at an ECD/school and I had medical aid and friends that are therapists and it was difficult, even with Karen, my mom, being an expert, I can only imagine what people with no resources go through and the waiting list growing so rapidly.”

Ms Stevens’s mother, Ms Fraser, said autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong neurological disorder. “It affects a person’s development and functioning in four areas such language and communication, social Interaction, motor planning and sensory processing as well as presence of repetitive and restricted patterns of behaviour.”

Contact Ms Stevens on 073 108 6763 or for more information about the school.