Background: In designing programs to raise the community level of awareness about childhood autism in sub-Saharan Africa, it is logical to use the primary healthcare workers as contact point for education of the general public. Tertiary healthcare workers could play the role of trainers on childhood autism at primary healthcare level. Assessing their baseline knowledge about childhood autism to detect areas of knowledge gap is an essential ingredient in starting off such programs that would be aimed at early diagnosis and interventions. Knowledge of the healthcare workers on availability of facilities and law that would promote the required interventions is also important. This study assessed the baseline knowledge about childhood autism and opinion among Nigerian healthcare workers on availability of facilities and law caring for the needs and rights of children with childhood autism and other developmental disorders.
Method: A total of one hundred and thirty four (134) consented healthcare workers working in tertiary healthcare facilities located in south east and south-south regions of Nigeria were interviewed with Socio-demographic, Knowledge about Childhood Autism among Health Workers (KCAHW) and Opinion on availability of Facilities and Law caring for the needs and rights of children with Childhood Autism and other developmental disorders (OFLCA) questionnaires.
Results: The total mean score of participated healthcare workers on KCAHW questionnaire was 12.35 +/- 4.40 out of a total score of 19 possible. Knowledge gap was found to be higher in domain 3 (symptoms of obsessive and repetitive pattern of behavior), followed by domains 1 (symptoms of impairments in social interaction), 4 (type of disorder autism is and associated co-morbidity) and 2 (symptoms of communication impairments) of KCAHW respectively among the healthcare workers. Knowledge about childhood autism (KCA) as measured by scores on KCAHW questionnaire was significantly associated with age group distribution of the healthcare workers, with those age group of fourth decades and above more likely to have higher mean score (p = 0.004) and previous experience of managing children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) (p = 0.000). KCA showed near significant association with area of specialty, with those healthcare workers in psychiatry compared to pediatrics having higher mean score (p = 0.071) and also with years of working experience of the healthcare workers (p = 0.056). More than half of the healthcare workers subscribed to the opinion that facilities and law caring for the needs and rights of children with childhood autism and other developmental disorders are lacking in Nigeria.
Conclusion: The correlates of KCA may help in selection of those tertiary healthcare workers that would best fit the role of trainers. It is important to update the knowledge gaps of those healthcare workers who scored low in different domains of KCAHW questionnaire. It is imperative for policy makers in Nigeria to advocate and implement multidisciplinary healthcare service system that would ensure early diagnosis and interventions. Nationally representative baseline epidemiological data that would guide policy and planning are also desirable.