Health experts in early September in Lagos blamed the growing number of autism cases in the last ten years in Nigeria and other African countries on increased awareness. The experts spoke at the GTCO Plc’s 12th Annual Autism Conference, which was held in Lagos with the theme, “Creating a Community of Autism Advocates.” They advised parents to seek professional advice in case of suspected autism in their children. Dr. Muideen Bakare, a Chief Consultant Psychiatrist and Head of the Child and Adolescent Unit of Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, explained a typical trend in the Nigerian school and hospital.
He said, “While there’s no national figure, the average is about 1-2 percent of the children in school but in clinical setting, the prevalence may be higher than that because more parents are bringing their children to the hospital.” Bakare blamed the increase in cases now on increased awareness and cultural factors. “There is a notion that black Africans don’t suffer autism because it’s rarely found among Africans due to our communal living. But these days, we have more nuclear families and children have less interactions and little exposure to peer relationships with extended family members because of nuclear setting. You need peer-to-peer interaction for mindset development. Play is an essential part of the development of any child,” Bakare said.
Bakare lists signs to watch out for in children.
He advised that if there is a development; delay, speech delay or a child cannot look straight to you in the eyes, those are the signs to consider in seeing a professional. He also said that if the child is always wishing to be on his or her own, is being consumed in his own world, and may be lacking in concentration, this is another sign. Also, a Consultant Emergency Psychiatrist with the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro Abeokuta, Dr Oladipo Sowunmi, stated to parents, “You need the right person to make the right diagnosis for you or else, everything that happens in the life of a child will be termed autism like intellectual disorders.”
“In general, neurodevelopmental disorders in children is like a salad mixed with different ingredients, you need somebody to sort the ingredients for you and let you know the main problems,” he said. Speaking on when to begin to suspect a case of autism, Sowunmi said, “It might appear earlier or later in life but usually we evaluate children during the period that their education had started where you expect more social interactions. In our community, most of the children were picked around the age of six. But if you are within the more educated setting where there’s a pressure of starting the preschool, there’s also a likelihood that you picked it earlier. We are expecting for all of us to do more in showing practical support for this special group of persons by adopting a mindset of inclusion.”
What is autism, its symptoms and how to identify it in our youth?
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. They may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. However, some people without ASD might also have some of the symptoms of ASD. But for people with ASD, these characteristics can make their lives very challenging.
Some of the symptoms of social communication and social interaction characteristics that are related to ASD can include: avoiding or not keeping eye contact; not responding to name by 9 months of age; not showing facial expressions such as happy, sad, angry, etc. by 9 months of age; not playing simple interactive games by 12 months of age; using few or no gestures by 12 months of age, such as not waving goodbye; not sharing their interests with others by 15 months; and many more.
Managing autism in adults is a real challenge.
Majority of the diagnosis of ASD made are on children. This means that any child whose diagnosis has been missed will continue to struggle with the disorder. Also, many of the resources, help and government support on autism are concentrated on children. What simply happens is that these resources seem to disappear in adulthood, even for diagnosed children. This is why these experts have recommended that parents pay attention to their kids and seek appropriate care for them. This includes noticing any strange thing about their children and seeking professional help.