I was reading a book a while back about a mother with a special needs child. She lamented about how people would see her with her baby and walk up to her with smiles and happiness but this would quickly change to pity when they realized that her baby had Down syndrome. She absolutely HATED this. Reading the comments this was echoed by a lot of other mothers including those with autistic children. They felt that there was nothing wrong with their children that they should receive pity. And they are right.
In Africa, autism is often undiagnosed in children and this leads to cases of children being in situations that one would term as child abuse. It is not uncommon for them to be locked away and hidden at home, beaten severely by their parents for their behaviours, tied up and left alone while their family is out, or be ignored and pushed aside. In many cases, it is associated with curses or witchcraft. It also doesn't help that many clinicians in poorer areas are unable to spot the signs and centres dedicated to autism are few and often very far away.
What is Autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. It is mainly caused by mutations in genes. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has different strengths and challenges. How they learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently. Autism can be diagnosed as early as two years in children.
Types of Autism
There are four main types of autism.
Asperger's syndrome. This is on the milder end of the spectrum. A person with Asperger's may be very intelligent and able to handle their daily life. They may be focused on topics that interest them and discuss them nonstop. But they have a much harder time socially.
Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). This diagnosis included most children whose autism was more severe than Asperger's syndrome, but not as severe as autistic disorder.
Autistic disorder. This older term is further along the autism spectrum than Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. It includes the same types of symptoms, but at a more intense level.
Childhood disintegrative disorder. This was the rarest and most severe part of the spectrum. It described children who develop normally and then quickly lose many social, language, and mental skills, usually between ages 2 and 4. Often, these children also developed a seizure disorder.
Below are some facts about autism that you may not know and what it involves.
It affects boys up to four times more than girls.
This leads to less severe cases being undiagnosed. Young boys are known for being playful, restless, and generally unruly in their younger years so we often do not think too much of their actions as they are just ‘boys being boys. Consulting with a pediatrician is key and so is early diagnosis.
There is no cure.
These are the hardest words to write, Autism has no cure. According to an article published by the CDC; Center for Disease Control and Prevention,currently, no treatment has been shown to cure ASD, but several interventions have been developed and studied for use with young children. These interventions may reduce symptoms, improve cognitive ability and daily living skills, and maximize the ability of the child to function and participate in the community.
It’s no doubt how heartbreaking and painful it is to accept such universal truths regarding the condition. However, with the help and love of their families, as well as support from their providers, doctors, specialists, and communities, children with ASD can learn and succeed in the classroom and life.
Chin up Daddy and Mommy! You are doing better than you think. We have a list of Global leaders below who have conquered regardless.
Autism affects children of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
There is autism in Africa! Research into autism in Africa has been infrequent and often does not represent all countries. This has made determining its prevalence difficult. Oftentimes only the most severe cases are recorded and treated and this too happens late into a child's development cycle. As African, we often shun things we don't understand and when a child has autism it is not unheard of that they are not accepted by the community or are ‘disciplined’ for being unruly. This is why it is important to frequently consult with a pediatrician after your child is born to make sure that should there be any developmental hurdles they can get the assistance they need in good time.
There is no medical detection for autism.
This may be the leading problem African has in detecting autism in children. As a continent when something is wrong we go to the doctor, they do tests, give us mediation and we go home. Autism doesn’t fall neatly into these plans. It is often the behavior of the child as well as the comparison of their development against standard developmental milestones that help in diagnosing this disorder. This becomes difficult especially with the lack of professionals with the adequate skills to do so. As of 2016, there was, on average, only one child physiatrist for every four million children in Africa.
Feel encouraged that should your child be diagnosed with any type of autism listed above, they are not limited but abled differently just look at the household names who have made it to the top and conquered so will your loved one.
Albert Einstein - the famous scientific and mathematical genius. The german born prodigy is famous for formulating the theory of relativity (e=mc^2)
Dan Aykroyd - from the original ghostbusters
Bill Gates - The founder of Microsoft and one of the richestment in the world
Tim Burton - the movie director
Steve Jobs - Founder and former CEO of Apple inc. He was also the designer of the shape of the classic iPhones (iPhone 1 - 5)
Leah Mwikali Mwangi
Corporate Communications Manager