By – Dotun Roy
Autism is one, out of several developmental challenges in children that would always require consistent examination and early medical help of either a paediatrician or an expert in Autistic Disorder.
In most African countries and other developing countries, autism is often perceived as some kind of evil or curse brought upon the affected child caused by the sin of the parents or by the witches, thereby causing the child to suffer huge neglect and be treated with utmost disdain. This is worse when the parents are poor and without means to cater for the child.
Recent survey carried out in 3 West African countries namely Ghana, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast has shown that only 5 per cent of the children within the autistic spectrum are given adequate care and attention while higher percentages of children that are considered normal and without developmental disorders are adequately cared for. This is mostly attributed to low awareness among parents on what could cause autism in a child.
However, several researchers have revealed through studies that some countries with highest autism rates in the world are among the most developed countries in the world. There are studies that have tried to use this fact to explain the autism prevalence in them, arguing that as people are getting more familiar with autism, its symptoms are easier to detect.
Countries like France, with 5 cases in 10,000 people, Germany, with just 1.9. Germany’s neighbour Denmark has an autism rate of 68 cases in 10,000 people, which is a staggering difference. In some US states, such as Arizona and Missouri the rate is 121 cases in 10,000 people, 60 in Alabama and 42 in Florida. Coincidentally, the states with the highest autism rates are also the ones with the best-developed facilities to deal with it.
In most developing countries, parents are bound to raise their children assuming that everything is normal with these children ignoring possible early symptoms associated with autism in a child particularly at infancy. Early symptoms such as fixed gazing at a particular object, lack of interest in what happens around them, often refuse to smile or giggle, extremely quiet, among other symptoms makes it difficult for the child to learn, act, behave or perceive things like normal children do.
This assumption that every other child must exhibit similar characteristics, interests, growth and development poses major challenge particularly to the parents who are quite new to parenting and nursing infants.
Despite this high level of ignorance, parents in most third world countries are now being properly sensitised and educated on major signs and symptoms to watch out for in their babies, since early detection of these symptoms which usually occur in the first 18 months helps for proper diagnostics and treatment, which are more effective at infancy.
In Nigeria however, the percentages of children with Autistic Disorder have grown from 10 to 15 per cent in the last 5 years, between 2011 and 2016. Nevertheless, there are foundations, non-governmental organisations and international healthcare support bodies who are currently on the vanguard sensitizing mothers as well as giving financial support particularly for those with complex cases of autism.
This is a good step to help save those indigent parents confronted with the unexpected challenges of raising children with autistic disorder. MA
Dotun Roy is an investigative journalist and a development blogger. He is the founder of www.dotunroy.com, a development driven news website, and also a co-founder of the Abuja Charity Carnival for the IDPs. www.abujacharitycarnival.org.ng. You can follow him on Twitter @dotunroy, Facebook at www.facebook.com/oladotun.roy, or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Instagram: DotunRoy; Mobile: +2348034858005