Children in Africa diagnosed with ASD much later than western cultures
Delayed diagnosis may cause increased severity for children in Ghana.
What was the context of the study?
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopment disorder. Autism is characterized by difficulties with communication, repetitive behaviors, and impaired social interaction. Globally, there has been an increase in autism. However, in sub-Saharan Africa there is a lack of data collection on autism. Ruparelia et al., set out to uncover the current state of autism in these countries. Additionally, the researchers hope to spread awareness to advocacy groups and individuals so that resources can be properly allocated to treat autism in sub-Saharan Africa.
The average age of diagnosis in Ghana for ASD is 8 years old, while in America it is 3 years old. This five year delay in diagnosis, may lead to increased severity.
What were the methods of the study?
The researchers invited 47 participants from 24 different African countries. The participants were professionals, such as pediatricians, pediatric neurologists, pediatric psychiatrists, psychologists, and speech and language therapists. Additionally, leaders of advocacy groups and parents of children with autism were invited. A representative selected from each country gave a presentation on infrastructure and practice in regard to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), such as awareness, professional capacity, screening and diagnostic procedures, and clinical and educational services. The participants were then split into four groups and discussed identifying children with ASD in Africa, diagnosis of ASD in Africa, management ASD in Africa, and support groups for families that have a child with a form of autism.
What did the study find?
The diagnosis of children with ASD was much later than the age in America. The average age of diagnosis in Africa was 8 years, whereas in America it is 3 years old. Often it was found that the children diagnosed had highly compromised language skills and severe intellectual disability. ASD is thought to be caused by supernatural powers such as angry ancestral spirits or wrong doings by the mother, therefore, traditional healers are sought out before medical professionals. The delay in medical treatment could result in the increase in severity. It was found that there is a lack of diagnostic tools and education on the causes of ASD in Africa. As traditional healers are normally the first person to treat the child, it is important that they are educated on the symptoms and treatments of ASD. Through analyzing secondary sources, delegates at the meeting estimated that the prevalence of ASD in Ghana for children under 14 is roughly 38.7%.
What were the conclusions of the study?
Children with autism are vulnerable, especially in Africa where there is stigma around disorders and limited resources. Due the child’s disorder, they lack the ability to effectively communicate and often may go undiagnosed as a result. Therefore, it is important to combat the stigma around developmental disorders in Africa. It is critical to introduce diagnostic tools. Steps must be taken to increase awareness and education on autism. Policy makers, and those in charge of allocating funds need to be aware of the prevalence of ASD in order to establish resources for children with autism. Additionally, advocacy groups, support groups, and nongovernmental organizations need to inform communities about autism.
Ruparelia, K., Abubakar, A., Badoe, E., Bakare, M., Visser, K., Chugani, D. C., … Newton, C. R. (2016). Autism Spectrum Disorders in Africa: Current Challenges in Identification, Assessment, and Treatment: A Report on the International Child Neurology Association Meeting on ASD in Africa, Ghana, April 3-5, 2014. Journal of Child Neurology, 31(8), 1018–1026. doi:10.1177/0883073816635748