Thursday, 10 October 2013

Challenging needs of the mentally challenged

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People who have mental health challenges need a lot of love, understanding, plenty of care and definitely stimulation, says Kathy Jooste, Chief Executive Officer of Avril Elizabeth Home for the Mentally Handicapped.

Speaking on World Mental Health Day, celebrated annually on the 10 October, Jooste said that having cared for the intellectually challenged for the past 43 years, the Home has increasingly discovered how important stimulation is for the promotion of growth and independence of those with mental and physical challenges.

“Our stimulation and education centre has become the heart of the Home. We use music, swimming, baking, basic computer work, arts and crafts, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy to stimulate and encourage our residents to perform simple tasks such as feeding and dressing themselves, brushing their teeth as well as speaking and writing.

“Each person has different needs and abilities and we make use of all the medical knowledge, training and skills at our disposal to create a programme that best suits them. That’s the key to the success of the Home. Even the most profoundly disabled person is catered for”.

Jooste says that the cost of running a stimulation centre such as Avril Elizabeth Home’s is high. 

“The centre has to be equipped with the right kind of toys and instruments and also the right kind of human resources. In addition, there are maintenance requirements and some of the therapy items need to be constantly replenished, such as the art and craft supplies”.

And for some, says Jooste, the progress can sometimes be slow. 

“Last year one of our residents who is now 50 years old learnt how to read and write after many years of therapy. Another example is that of a little girl with unknown disabilities who was abandoned outside the Home’s gate. She finally stopped crying and is smiling after two years. But that was the result of two years of daily stimulation and therapy.”

Some residents, especially those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism, benefit from the soothing environment of the Home’s Snoezelen Room. The room uses lighting effects, colour, sounds, music, materials and scents to deliver stimuli to various senses.

“One of our residents, Thokozani, who also has ADHD, is often found standing unusually still staring at the lights. It seems to calm him as well as our other residents who are sometimes aggressive,” she says.

Jooste says that World Mental Health Day is not only an opportune time to celebrate the advances made in medicine and therapy with regard to mental health, but also to raise government and individual’s awareness of the need to allocate adequate financial and human resources to mental health services. 

To find out more about Avril Elizabeth Home, or how to donate, go to or contact 011 822 2233.