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Gqeberha student Wamkelwe Mdzanga has written a story, A Game Lonwabo Can Play, to help children understand how to interact with other children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The 22-year-old marketing student has a younger brother, Chumi, 15, with ASD and has seen how this pervasive developmental condition has affected his life.

Social interaction, for example, is one of his challenges and it is difficult for Chumi to find friends to play with.

And while most autistic children do speak, Chumi is also non-verbal and cannot communicate easily with others.

“I just sat down and thought about how I would interact with someone like this if I was in that situation,” Mdzanga says of her educational story, which is in the form of a shareable PDF.

In A Game Lonwabo Can Play, a boy called James wants his friend Lonwabo to join the neighbourhood children in playing a game of tag, but he realises Lonwabo is different to the other children and may not enjoy this game.

Many autistic children also have sensitivities to sound and other sensory inputs, so a ball bouncing loudly or people shouting at each other may stressful.

Some also do not like physical games like soccer.

When Mdzanga was looking at games, therefore, she decided to focus on what “Lonwabo ”— which is the middle name of her brother — could do rather than what he could not.

“I do know that my brother can do arts and crafts, so I based it off that,” she said.

Writing is in the family. Last year, Mdzanga’s mother, Prof Nokhanyo Mdzanga, published a memoir titled Seems Like It’s My Destiny. Mdzanga wrote a chapter for this, which inspired her to write A Game Lonwabo Can Play.

Her mother then approached Gqeberha illustrator Bulelani Booi, 36, to bring Mdzanga’s words to life with bright drawings of children playing in an African village.

Booi, the manager at ArtEC in Central, is a self-taught artist and though he studied electrical engineering, he has found his niche in the creative arts of music and graphic design.

“I grew up watching cartoons, so this style of illustration is not new to me,” the Motherwell artist said of his work on the story.

“There are a lot of autistic children among us, but some are not diagnosed, and I know that every child has a different way of coping.”

Mdzanga said she suspected many families had no idea how to react to, or interact with, a child who was autistic.

“A lot of young kids don’t know that there are children like this as they don’t often interact with them or see kids like this,” she said.

“Growing up, I never really spoke about having a brother with autism and I think some people still don’t know.

“I also would never invite people over, because I was nervous how they’d be about him.”

Nokhanyo, an associate professor in the faculty of education at Nelson Mandela University, is encouraging Mdzanga to develop more stories for publication and distribution to schools.

This will help educate children about these conditions.

“We are planning to write a book on sensory issues, for example,” Nokhanyo said.

Download A Game Lonwabo Can Play in PDF form, free, from Prof Mdzanga’s Facebook page, Seems Like It’s My Destiny.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 11 August 2021 written by Gillian McAinsh

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