Autism or Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of conditions characterised by impaired communication and language, social behaviour, and narrow range of interests. In many cases, people living with autism have unique activities that they carry out repeatedly.
As we observe Autism Awareness month this April, here are some facts you need to know about the disorder.
1 in 160 children has an ASD
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), One in 160 children in the world has an ASD. However, the number is only an estimate and the reported cases vary according to studies. The WHO also states that the prevalence has been increasing over 50 years due to various reasons including improved awareness, expansion of diagnostic criteria, better diagnostic tools and improved reporting.
No one knows the causes of Autism
The cause of the disorder is still unknown. However, studies have linked it to genetics and environmental factors. According to Nature.com, new genetic mutations (de novo) could be responsible for the condition in some cases. A study, Environmental Factors in Autism by Andreas Grubrucker highlighted the importance of looking at how environmental factors interact with genetics to lead to ASD.
Early Intervention is important
The WHO advocates for intervention early in the life of the child living with autism as it will help with the promoting of their well being and development.
It is important that, once identified, children with an ASD and their families are offered relevant information, services, referrals, and practical support according to their individual needs.
There are quite a number of intervention programs including behavioural, cognitive and combined interventions, designed for different age groups and for caregivers as well.
While there is no cure for autism yet, the condition is managed through interventions, medication and psychosocial support.
Autism is still misunderstood in Africa
An Aljazeera report highlighted how autism is still misunderstood in Africa. Not only are many parents embarrassed of their children, others consider the disease as a curse or even witchcraft. The Current Situation of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Africa states that such negative beliefs and associations with ASD make parents and caregivers hide their children from the public to avoid the rejection and protect their children from stigma.
The consequence of such a situation is the failure to identify and diagnose ASD, thus leading to late interventions. It also means that the special needs of the people living with the condition are not meet meaning that they are unable to live optimally and develop fully.
There is a need for ASD awareness creation on the continent
Africa still grapples with inadequate health facilities and personnel specially meant for people with autism.
The WHO is making concerted effort to ensure that member states are enhanced in dealing with ASD in term of commitment to promoting positive health, guidance in creating policies that address ASD and contributing to strategies for assessment and treatment of the condition.
It acknowledges that the health-care providers’ inadequate knowledge of ASD and misconceptions are a common barrier to managing the condition.
In 2017, the International Society for Autism Research held its first ever meeting in the continent. Held in South Africa the forum sought to highlight research on ASD in Africa.