Original Research

Supporting a Tsonga learner living with Bardet-Biedl syndrome, a rare complex disability

Mfungana M. Shikwambana, Jean V. Fourie
African Journal of Disability | Vol 12 | a1181 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v12i0.1181 | © 2023 Jean Veronica Fourie, Mfungana Marvin Shikwambana | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 December 2022 | Published: 04 December 2023

About the author(s)

Mfungana M. Shikwambana, Department of Educational Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Jean V. Fourie, Department of Educational Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS) is a rare, systemic, hereditary disorder characterised by obesity, polydactyly, visual and auditory impairment, and cognitive disability. Providing quality education in appropriate schools for children who present with such complex chronic conditions is challenging.

Objectives: This study explored the dimensions of psycho-educational support needs for a child with BBS in South Africa to contribute to the improvement of early detection and holistic interventions.

Method: A descriptive in-depth qualitative case study of Gezani, an adolescent Tsonga boy diagnosed with BBS, was undertaken. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with his parents and teachers to ascertain the boy’s psycho-educational support needs. Medical reports provided information on the complexities and prognosis of the syndrome. Observations in the classroom corroborated the learner’s symptoms and behaviours.

Results: Thematic content analysis revealed the key areas of support needs. Gezani’s cognitive disability required a modified, slow-paced curriculum. His visual impairment required mobility orientation training and learning Braille. His emotional needs were supported with psychotherapy to maintain a sense of well-being. Medical monitoring was recommended with interventions for walking and managing his diet and weight. Speech therapy supported his communication skills.

Conclusion: Learners with multiple disabilities require carefully planned, individualised psycho-educational support programmes addressing their unique needs and delays with targeted remedial interventions in appropriate special needs schools.

Contribution: This study informs educators about BBS and provides multi-faceted, holistic support. The Department of Basic Education could bring special schools and national policies in tighter alignment for learners presenting with complex disabilities.


adolescent education; Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS); progressive blindness; genetic disorder; polydactyly; psycho-educational support; special needs education; visual impairment

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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