Autism In Africa

Figure 1image source:otsimo.com

This could be any mother’s story. “I noticed something was amiss with my child of two years. He was not meeting the basic milestones as other children. He was averse to any touch as well as eye contact. He did not cry or make any sound that spelt out language development. We consulted many specialists who told us he would be fine and would adjust like the other children. Some said he was mentally retarded.  We finally got to meet up with a specialist who told us that my son was autistic.”

Did you Know that One out of every 160 children suffers autism spectrum disorder?  The first autism report globally was by Kanner in 1943. Three decades later in the 1970s autism spectrum disorder was reported among African children in the continent covering countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa.  It is harder to determine the rates of autism in Africa given the limited access to clinicians in sub-Saharan Africa.

Figure 2miss autism beauty pageant. Image source:face2faceafrica.com

Mr. and Ms. autism Kenya beauty pageant was held on 20th April 2 019. This, however, does not shift focus from the fact that very little is known about autism in Africa. In fact, almost everything that is known about autism comes from high-income countries. This developmental disorder usually presents itself around the ages of 3. Autism is usually characterized by a deficit in verbal and non-verbal communication as well as social interaction skills.

The United Nations (UN) predicts that 40% of the world’s children are likely to call Africa home by 2050. This means that the number of individuals living with autism on the continent is expected to substantially increase. Research has not revealed the exact cause of autism. There is a combination of possible triggers that lead to autism either genetic or environmental.

Researchers believe that several genes are involved in autism. Some of these genes increase a child’s susceptibility to the disorder, while others affect communication and brain development. The individual effect of these genes accounts for a small number of cases but if combined the gene influence is greater. While Some genes occur spontaneously others are inherited.

Figure 3image source:niehs.nhi.org

Autism research news sire reported that Children with autism in Africa are diagnosed late around the age of 8 compared to other children in different parts of the world. Part of the reasons that attribute to this, is the lack of cultural sensitivity. The majority are ignorant of the condition in the first place. In addition, there is no biological marker or medical test for autism posing a challenge to the detection of autism.

Medical costs are high thus marginalizing the low-income earners in Africa. Moreover, the treatment interventions ranging from applied behaviour analysis to occupational therapy tend to be so expensive. The drugs are also costly making most opt out.  The government should seek to invest in the medical arena surrounding autism in order to cut medical cost as most cannot afford it.

Stigma still surrounds autism in Africa. Most, being unaware of the condition believe that it is a curse. This prompts a number of parents with autistic children to withdrawal and hides them from society to avoid shame and stereotype. This can be solved Autism awareness campaigns o from the grass root levels. Both medical practitioners and the government should take a lead, to help develop acceptance, and prompt early medical interventions for the autistic patient. The education gap in autism should be addressed. more should be incorporated in the curriculum to raise awareness.

Efforts to bring autism to the open are just beginning. It is a huge responsibility, slowly eating our social interactions and eventually taking a toll on sustainability.

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