Background: The universal occurrence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) was queried about twenty-six years ago. It was thought to occur only in western industrialized countries with high technological development. Over the last decade, knowledge about ASD and its prevalence has been documented as being on the rise in different regions of the world, with most literature coming from the western world -- the situation in Africa on aspects of ASD remain unclear.
Methods: Literature cited in Pubmed over the last decade on aspects of epidemiology, diagnosis, aetiology and knowledge of ASD in the African context were assessed.
Keywords: autism, diagnosis, aetiology, knowledge and Africa were variously combined in the literature search.
Results: No study specifically addressed the epidemiology of ASD in Africa. One of the two studies that were relevant addressed epidemiology of ASD in Arab countries, though included two Northern African countries. A higher proportion of non-verbal cases of ASD compared to verbal cases was documented in literature coming from Africa. Associated co-morbid disorders included intellectual disability, epilepsy and oculo-cutaneous albinism. Aetiological factors postulated included post-encephalitic infection, genetic and auto-immune factors, and vitamin D deficiency. Knowledge about ASD in Africa was noted to be low.
Conclusion: There is a need for epidemiological studies in Africa to define the magnitude of the problem of ASD and the characteristics of children affected by ASD in this region. This would help in planning and might be helpful in answering the question of aetiology of ASD. Policy making needs to be directed at issues of childhood developmental disorders in Africa.