Michael Academy aids early development

Michael Academy founder Leanne Bezuidenhout and teaching assistants, Candida Arraiol, Mellania Moyo and Monica Shasha.

A Table View speech therapist has set up a learning centre to help children with learning disabilities who all too often fall through the cracks in the mainstream school system.
Leanne Bezuidenhout saw the need to help children who don’t always make it through the schooling sausage machine and her Michael Academy is an early intervention learning centre for children between the ages of three and six whose parents can’t afford to enrol them in a private school catering for children with learning problems.
The NGO, which opened in August 2014, started with two pupils on the autism spectrum and one teacher. Today the school at St Chad’s Church, in Table View, has
15 pupils, two teachers and two assistants who give each child the individual attention they need.
“Many of the kids have autism, which comes out as behavioural problems at school. Parents would come to me and say that no one wants to deal with their kids at school. The schools that are available are very expensive,” said Ms Bezuidenhout.
“I realised that I need to help these kids, and, not too long ago, my sister became pregnant and found out that her unborn child would be born with Down syndrome.
“He was stillborn, but he is the inspiration behind Michael Academy, which is named after him,” said Ms Bezuidenhout.
The academy provides therapy-based learning to its pupils with the aid of an occupational therapist (OT) and psychologist who work directly with the children.
New pupils are given a speech therapy assessment, OT assessment and a learning assessment. An independent education plan with specific goals for each child is then created.
“We start at 8.30am with play, and we encourage social interaction. We do a lot of sensory work where we will wrap them up so that they feel safe. The OT also brushes their skin, which puts them in a good place for learning,” said Ms Bezuidenhout.
“At 9am, we do circle time with picture learning, and we have a visual picture schedule for each child pinned against the wall so that they know what will happen next, and they don’t become anxious. Each child will do individual tasks to improve their fine-motor skills.”
She believes children helped with early intervention as soon as possible stand the best chance of fitting into mainstream schooling.
She said she had seen many non-verbal children who came to the centre and who now speak freely.
“There has been a big improvement in the children who can now have conversations and improved their social interaction.
“Parents just want to ask their kids how their day was at school, and now they can.”
The academy charges fees, which range per child, and also offers a financial aid option but these don’t cover its running costs and so it holds monthly fund-raisers.
For more information, contact Leanne Bezuidenhout at 082 881 8801 or visit the Michael Academy Facebook page.