Autistic Spectrum Disorder

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe
File photo
File photo

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is recognised as a growing global health concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Recently, there appears to be a growing recognition of ASD and related neurodevelopmental disabilities in Ghana.

ASD refers to neurodevelopmental conditions that begin early in childhood into adulthood.

It manifests itself as persistent difficulties in social communication and interaction across multiple contexts and restricted/repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.

Neurodevelopmental refers to differences in patterns of brain development. The cause is unknown (idiopathic) and believed to be multifactorial. There is no cure for ASD.

Signs of ASD include not responding to name, not pointing to objects, not using language spontaneously, not playing ‘pretend’ or imaginative games, not initiating play and preference to play alone, not sharing or showing feelings, rigid with certain thoughts, not following instructions at age related expectations, having unusual sensory reactions to sound, smell, touch, taste, sight (such as flapping hands, rocking body or spinning in circles), repeating words or phrases over and over (echolalia), fixation on routines.

The needs of individuals with ASD vary enormously. Quality of life is improved via appropriate life-long educational approaches, support to families by health professionals such as neuropaediatricians, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and clinical psychologists.

Impact

The impact of ASD diagnosis on families is huge. It is easy to become overwhelmed with emotions and concerns about what the future holds.

In Ghana, this puts financial burdens on the family, especially as almost none of the specialised services needed by children with ASD is yet covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Caregivers are burdened by anxiety of their children’s future in addition to issues with stigmatisation and discrimination by society. These can lead to depression, insecurity, paranoia and in some instances divorce.

For families to feel included by society, compassion — feelings and desire to help — needs to be shown to persons with ASD and their families.

Also helpful are inclusion and integration into community settings such as schools, churches, hospitals, banks, mosques, airports, etc. and activities of daily living.

Currently, these and access to specialised education in mainstream schools are almost non-existent.

Role

The school’s role in compassion include equipping themselves with knowledge about ASD. Knowledge is power.

This requires them to talk and teach children about ASD and encourage them to be tolerant of other children who are different.

Schools will then begin to focus on strengths and not deficits of children with ASD and promote inclusion. Not all children with ASD will need to be in special schools.

As a teacher in a classroom with a child/children with ASD, compassion begins with understanding and knowing what ASD is and some behaviour peculiar to the condition.

This translates into being a good adult role model (who knows how to relate to children with ASD) for all children.

Inclusion goes a long way to produce enriched outcomes. It eradicates ignorance and promotes well-being.

When persons with ASD are included in the society, their human rights are respected, including the opportunity to be employed and earn a living for themselves.

The bigger family unit, religious organisations, hospitals, financial institutions, among others, all have a role to play.
Get involved!

The writer is a Speech and Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana.