Vasco centre a refuge for disabled adults

The Vasco Special Needs Centre in Vasco, Goodwood, opened its doors earlier this year to provide a sheltered working environment for young adults with autism and physical and mental disabilities after they leave school.

Currently, the centre, which registered as a non-profit company in April, is only open on Saturdays and focuses on young men between the ages of 16 and 26, but it hopes to include women at a later stage.

It also intends registering with the Department of Social Development to run a full-time centre for children with special needs.

Pieter Schoeman, the centre’s project manager, and his wife, Rosalie, started the centre after they couldn’t find a suitable place for their 16-year-old son, Jared, who has autism.

At first, Mr Schoeman said, the idea had been to help those with autism. Later they had realised there was a need for a place that could support young people with mental and physical disabilities once they left school.

The Saturday workshops are free, but at least one parent must accompany the participant.

Mr Schoeman said since the centre opened in March, eight people were now attending every Saturday as well as throughout the school holidays. They learn how to make various items, including baths salts, muffin and cake mix, jewellery and hand-made cards.

These are then sold to raise funds for the centre and awareness of the work it does.

The programme is run by Lizel Billing, a parent of one of the attendees, and Loretta Hepburn, an assistant who works full-time at Vera School for Autistic Learners. Ms Hepburn has more than 25 years experience working with special needs children.

The holiday programme costs R100 a day for each participant, and parents are required to pack a lunch for them.

Mr Schoeman said the centre would continue with its Saturday workshops after the school holidays. It would run further holiday programmes in September and December and hoped to be running full-time from January next year.

Janine Chester, the director at Autism Western Cape, said that while she had not heard of the Vasco Special Needs Centre, their initiative sounded like a good one.

Ms Chester said there was a great demand for protective work spaces for children with autism and disabilities after they left school.

Autism Western Cape was launching a programme that prepares adults with autism for the workplace.

“People with autism are great people to employ. They have great attention spans and can be very productive in a good and quiet work space. We would like to educate organisations about the benefits of employing people with autism,” said Ms Chester.

* The Vasco Special Needs Centre will hold its next market day at the Vasco Lutheran Church, on the corner of Smartt Street and Vasco Boulevard, Vasco, on Saturday July 30, from 10am to 3pm.