Guest Blog for Introduction to International Autism Awareness
Hereditary or Environmental Disorder
Authored by Dickson B. Nyongesa
Introduction for International Autism Awareness
Autism has been defined differently with misleading theories, myths and observations in both traditional and the modern world of science and technology. People commonly believe the etiology or origin of autism is genetic or environmental. In broader aspects and relevant fact findings, here is the truth behind Autism.
Autism is among the five disorders that fall within the umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) in the modern science. The five sub-division of PDD are Asperger’s Disorder, Autistic Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), Not until Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and Rett Disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2000).
These PDD disorders are associated with severe and pervasive deficits in several areas of development such as social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleeping and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art. In some instances, Children with autism might develop unusual attachments to objects and resist some changes in routines.
Apart from these unique characteristics and the lack of normal development of language, children with autism do not manifest any different characteristics from typical developing children (Powers, 1989). While procedures for screening, diagnosis and treatment has increased in recent years in developed countries (e.g. European Union countries, and The United States of America), there is little or no available research in Africa continent.
This has left children with Autism to be abandoned in other African countries in claims that they are associated with bad omen.
In an effort to change the notion in Kenya, East Africa, research had to be conducted to understand the difficulties that parents, care givers and special needs providers encounter as they experience the diagnosis, and treatment of autism in Kenya. 39 parents, caregivers and 11 special needs providers were participants in this study.
Emerging of eight themes were established on how parents, care givers and special needs providers encounter as they go about in the diagnosis and treatment of autism disease in Kenya. The themes which were put into perspective were; limited research, lack of awareness, lack of treatment protocols, cultural factors, the lack of institutional/government support, lack of financial muscles to treat children with autism, isolation and broken families and lastly ,social stigma.
While all this contributes to the increase in Autism in other Countries, here in Kenya Autism Spectrum Disorder rarely is recognized.
Before this, children on the spectrum were beaten, hidden away, or killed because it was believed that they were possessed by demons. It’s true that most of the behaviors of these children are quite abnormal and misunderstood but they are rarely violent or evil.
Fortunately, over the past few years autism awareness has slowly spread throughout the country. Global Statistics shows that 3 in 90 children will be diagnosed with autism, it’s even scarier to know that more children will be diagnosed as autistic than with cancer, aids, and diabetes combined.
Autism manifests itself before the age of three years, even though it varies in the severity of symptoms, age of onset, and the presence of different features, i.e. mental retardation and language delay (Autism Society of America; National Research Council, 2001;Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
Specific criteria must be met for one to undergo Autism diagnosis; but overall, a significant impairment in communication and social interaction must be present, as well as restricted repertoire of interest and activities. Retardation of mental process is commonly present, as is uneven development of cognitive skills.
Behavioral symptoms are also common here, and mostly range from self-injurious behaviors to hyperactivity and tantrums. Some have difficulties in eating and commonly experience sleeping disorders. According to Ginker, 2007, approximately 25% of children are diagnosed.
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