Over the years lack of awareness of autism spectrum disorder has been pervasive in the general population in Africa, but also not excluding among the medical community. In a survey conducted by Bakare during his workshop presentation, psychiatrists and pediatricians in Nigeria were asked about the causes of Autism. Many among the respondents had the belief that autism spectrum disorder was caused by angered ancestral spirits, sinful wrong-doing most often by the mother, or the action of the devil.
They concluded that it is common knowledge in Africa for a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder to be taken first to a traditional healer, before a parent find an alternative in the mainstream medical attention.
This situation is worse in Ghana as children born with autism spectrum
Disorder are regarded as cursed. Most often such children are referred to as “Nsuo ba” in a local dialect which literally means child of the river gods.
This phenomenon which prevents people in seeking for mainstream medical attention may account for delay in diagnosis resulting in an exacerbating factor which deepens severity in cognitive and speech defect in children with autism spectrum disorder.
This system of belief has been endemic among the larger population of the Africans, particularly in Ghana.
It is this reason that there should be more awareness regarding the need to highlight for earlier recognition and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in Ghana and the rest of Africa who still hold unto the belief that autism spectrum disorder is the cause of evil spirits and the sinful wrong doing of the child’s parents.
As It is now, in Ghana there are no well-developed and resourced medical centers with “gold-standard” and validated tools available to screen and diagnose autism spectrum disorder.
Yet there is the need to erase the perception that abnormal behavior may be mediated by culture, whiles intensify screening measures to do away with negative perception of the disease among the Ghanaian populace.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication.
The condition also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The term “spectrum” in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity.
A good deal of research finding have concluded that Some children demonstrate signs of autism spectrum disorder when they in infant stage, which includes actions such as imperfectly eye contact, lack of response to their name or aggressive to caregivers.
The studies indicate that other children in the early stages of their lives may develop normally, but later become reserved or aggressive or have impaired speech.
These symptoms generally are detected when the child is 2 years old.
A number of research studies have suggested that each child with autism spectrum disorder is likely to have a different pattern of behavior and level of severity, thus low functioning to high functioning.
Some studies have shown that some children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty learning, and they normally demonstrate signs of lower or below intelligence.
Social communication and interaction
Children with autism spectrum disorder may have difficulty in interacting socially and communicating with people among others including these signs:
He or she lacks the ability to respond to his or her name or appears not to hear you at times.
They sometimes do not want to be cuddled and held, indicating their preference in playing alone, and preventing any company around himself or herself.
They may have imperfect eye contact and lack facial expression.
He or she doesn’t speak or has speech defect, or loses previous ability to say words or sentence.
They Can’t start a conversation on their own.
He or she speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm and may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech.
They appear to repeat words or phrases verbatim, but don’t know the appropriate ways to use them
Cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder
It has been established that Autism spectrum disorder has no single known cause. This position of the science could be explained that the complication of the disorder, and the varied nature of symptoms together with its severity show that there could be many causes. It is believed that there could be genetics and environmental factors.
Several genes appear to play a role in autism spectrum disorder.
It is well established fact that children with autism spectrum disorder have connection with a genetic disorder, such as Rett syndrome or fragile X syndrome.
However, with other children, genetic changes or mutations may cause rise in the risk factor of autism spectrum disorder.
Moreover, other genes may negatively impact brain development or the way that brain cells communicate, or they may account for the severity of symptoms.
Some genetic mutations appear to be passed unto them, while others occur spontaneously.
Research studies are currently on going to find out whether factors such as viral infections, medications or complications during pregnancy, or air pollutants increase a role in developing autism spectrum disorder.
Meanwhile, major global technological advances in understanding the genetic and developmental aspects of autism spectrum disorder have been created, yet many aspects of the condition are still not clear to scientists.
Pathways to care for Children with Autism Disorder
Pathways to care for children with autism spectrum disorder in the Ghana are often different as compared to their counterparts in well-resourced and developed environments.
Most communities still use the services of traditional healers and are often the first point of contact for parents of children with disabilities in many Ghanaian settings.
That is why there is the need for the main stream medical centers to establish contact with them so that they get to know that Autism Spectrum Disorder is not the cause of an evil spirit but purely medical condition.
This will make them refer such children to a proper health facility in the country for medical treatment.
There should be provision of validated screening measures, diagnostic tools, and proper and strategies medical centers to provide clinical care for children with the Autism disorder.
There is an urgent need for health professionals and caregivers to have access to expertise, knowledge and training.