Background: There is increasing public and professional awareness of autism spectrum disorders with early recognition, diagnosis and interventions that are known to improve prognosis. Poor knowledge about childhood autism among paediatric and psychiatric nurses who are members of multidisciplinary teams that care for such children may be a major barrier to early interventions that could improve quality of life and prognosis in childhood autism. Factors that influence knowledge about childhood autism among these nurses are not known. This study assessed knowledge about childhood autism among paediatric and psychiatric nurses in Ebonyi state, Nigeria and determined the factors that could be influencing such knowledge.
Methods: Forty specialist paediatric and forty psychiatric nurses, making a total sample of eighty, were randomly selected from all the health care facilities in Ebonyi state, Nigeria. A socio-demographic questionnaire and knowledge about childhood autism among health workers (KCAHW) questionnaire were administered to them and the study was a point survey.
Results: The total mean score on the KCAHW questionnaire among the nurses that participated in the study was 12.56 ± 3.23 out of a total of 19 possible. The mean score for the paediatric nurses was 11.78 ± 3.64 while psychiatric nurses had mean score of 13.35 ± 2.58. The mean scores in Domain 1 were 6.17 ± 1.75 for the paediatric nurses and 6.52 ± 1.43 for the psychiatric nurses. The mean scores in Domain 2 were 0.65 ± 0.48 for the paediatric nurses and 0.80 ± 0.41 for the psychiatric nurses. Domain 3 showed mean scores of 1.97 ± 1.25 for the paediatric nurses while psychiatric nurses scored 2.62 ± 1.23. Domain 4 yielded the mean scores of 2.97 ± 1.54 and 3.42 ± 0.98 for the paediatric and psychiatric nurses respectively.There was significant relationship between the total mean score on the KCAHW questionnaire for the two groups and the area of specialisation of the nurses (t = -2.23, df = 78, p = 0.03) and there was also significant relationship between previous involvement in managing children with childhood autism as a specialist paediatric or psychiatric nurse and the total mean score on the KCAHW questionnaire (t = 6.90, df = 78, p = 0.00).
Conclusion: The scores reflect deficits in knowledge about childhood autism among the study cohorts. Paediatric and psychiatric nurses as members of multidisciplinary teams that care for children with childhood autism are expected to provide holistic care and adequate counselling to the families of these children. Unfortunately in this environment, they are not fully equipped with enough knowledge about childhood autism. Education on childhood autism is therefore needed and can be provided through continuing medical education and emphasizing childhood autism in their training curriculum. This will enhance early identification and diagnosis of childhood autism with early interventions that are known to improve prognosis.