In 2018, WHO stated that 1 in 160 children had Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and it is likely to occur 5 times more in boys than in girls (Ellison-Wright et al., 2015). Due to a paucity of data, the prevalence of ASD in low and middle-income countries is vague. In spite of this, Nigeria reportedly has a prevalence rate of 1 in 44 children (Lagunju et al.,2016).
The National Institute of Mental Health defines ASD as a developmental disorder that affects social skills, behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication. In 2009, Pierce et al., postulated that 87.5% of autistic infants displayed symptoms within their 1st years. ASDs are generally diagnosed as early as 3 years of age, and even later in developing parts of the world due to poor means of identifying and managing this condition. ASD currently has no cure, however, some major symptoms to look out for to help with early intervention are difficulty in communication, learning and exhibiting social skills.
With a dearth of data in low and middle-income countries, how can we encourage a surge in research in this field? What forms of treatment or management for ASDs are you aware of?
I think it will take a while before health issues like Autism are given a lot of attention in Nigeria, or even Sub Saharan Africa, most of the funding for research is still going into infectious diseases and major NCDs so naturally issues like autism tend to take a back seat.
Increased funding into ASDs and mental health issues in general would definitely improve the available data and research on the topic.
Also, Lagunju et al’s reported prevalence of 1 in 44 was a hospital based prevalence rate and can’t really be applied to the entire country.
Research in this field can be encouraged by creating awareness in our society about it. That 'll help more us to be sensitive and easily identify anyone on the autism spectrum,and the more that’s done,it 'll spark the need for more knowledge and research about it in our society.
And in creating awareness, we also need to change the narrative of autism being a stigma in our society. We need to support mental health.
Autism is not a disability but a different ability.
I hope it doesn’t take too long because like you pointed out they have serious health implications too
With the rate of infectious diseases seemingly on the rise, do you think issues like autism will ever be equally addressed. Yes, Lagunju et al reported a 1 in 44 prevalence in South Western Nigeria.
Eventually they will but with so much focus on infectious diseases and the leading causes of death its going to take a while.
I think foundations and NGOS as well as private individuals that have a personal stake can lead the charge for more funding and more research. It’ll go a long way.
Yes, NGOs and private individuals are our best bet in leading research in this area. They might still need support from the government though.
Public enlightenment would help a lot. More awareness and enlightenment should be done about ASD especially during ante-natal and post natal sessions. So mother can know what symptoms to look out for in their children
Nice one, Esha! I like the idea of placing emphasis on Autism during ante-natal and post-natal sessions, mothers are more likely to remember advice and teachings from these classes.
Wow Laura! We ought to coin that phrase, ‘Autism is not a disability but a Different Ability’. Nice one! It sure does help in managing individuals with the condition from that perspective and definitely gives room for research.