Excess of non-verbal cases of autism spectrum disorders presenting to orthodox clinical practice in Africa - a trend possibly resulting from late diagnosis and intervention

S Afr J Psychiatr. 2011 Dec;17(4):118-120.


OBJECTIVES: Characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in Africa are not known because of unavailability of large-scale epidemiological studies in this region. This review explored the age at first presentation to orthodox clinical practice of African children with ASDs and their expressive language ability at presentation. METHODS: A literature search of case series and case reports of ASDs from Africa was done through PubMed/MEDLINE, Google Scholar, African Journals Online (AJOL), and archives of the Nigerian Journal of Psychiatry. Six articles included content relating to age of the child at first presentation to orthodox clinical practice and symptoms at presentation related to expressive language ability and therefore fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Suggestions are made to explain the observations emanating from the review. RESULTS: An excess of non-verbal over verbal cases of ASDs have been presenting to orthodox clinical practice and there is a common denominator of late presentation/diagnosis and in turn late intervention, with most cases presenting for the first time well above 8 years of age. Attempts to explain these observations included low levels of knowledge and awareness about ASDs in Africa; problems with help-seeking behaviour; and lack of mental healthcare facilities and trained personnel. CONCLUSIONS: Enhancement of processes directed at ensuring early diagnosis and interventions, especially interventions aimed at improving speech and language development well and sufficiently early, may bring about a shift in the trend of excess non-verbal cases of ASDs over verbal cases presenting to orthodox clinical practice.