BusinessDay

Autism: why hesitance to services deprives early intervention

…children of educated mothers get twice rate of diagnosis

More than the shortage of diagnostic services and expert physicians, affordability of services or the socioeconomic status of parents, hesitance to access available services could be the biggest threat to early intervention for autism.

This is according to experts in developmental health.

They say improvements that can be gained in the formative years of children with autism are missed mostly because parents first, delay admitting the condition and fail to access needed services.

Even despite rife views that children from poor families have a higher tendency to face the brunt of the shortage of appropriate services, Adegboyega Otubanjo, a New-York based speech-language pathologist said the willingness to get care is the ultimate thing lacking.

Nigeria is still behind in access to early intervention just as in any third-world country when compared to some countries in Europe or the United States where the government provides services for free or at a largely subsidised rate, he said.

“Some states in America give the services to people 75 per cent subsidised and your insurance will cover the rest but in New York, the state pays 100 per cent for the services. Yet there are 10,000 kids who need speech therapy in New York and the parents are not accessing the services,” Otubanjo said speaking during the 11th Annual Autism Programme convened by Guaranty Trust Holding Company Plc., a multinational financial services group.

“We have countries where there is a shortage of services and we have countries where the services are available and people aren’t accessing them.”

Several studies have probed the link between and access to screening of autism in children and most found a lower rate of association or none at all.

Read also: World Autism Day: ‘People with Autism have their own aspirations, dreams, God-given potential’

A research carried out in the UK by eight cohorts of Born in Bradford in 2017, for instance, found that in 13,857 children born between 2007 and 2011, children of mothers educated to A-level or above had a higher tendency to access early intervention as opposed to those of mothers with lower levels of education.

Kids from educated mothers had twice the rate of autism diagnosis, 1.5 per cent, while those of lower education status 0.7 per cent, states the research funded by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care (NIHR CLAHRC) and the Programme Grants for Applied Research funding scheme.

“Early intervention is key to addressing Autism. The earlier parents identify that their child may be on the autism spectrum, the earlier they address it. It will not always present in two people in exact ways. However, the symptoms will be similar because it will affect behaviour, social skills and communication,” Adelola Edema-George, a special needs educator said.

Data on the population of children with autism in Nigeria are not consistent but one in 160 children have Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) globally based on the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Among children aged zero to 14 years, autism and attention deficit top the most common health conditions related to learning difficulties, a 2011 World Report on Disability by the WHO and the World Bank shows.

While people with disabilities, in general, are at higher risk of nonfatal injuries from road traffic crashes, burns, falls, and accidents related to assistive devices, the report says children with developmental disabilities were two to three times more at risk.

Early interventions for improved outcomes often come in handy to reduce these risks, which is essential for a life-long condition. The WHO says psychological and social interventions are effective at improving communication and social skills of autistic children, with a positive impact on the well-being and quality of life.

Grace Bamigboye, public relations officer, Speech Pathology and Audiology Association of Nigeria urged parents to get an understanding of the specific diagnosis they are dealing with, noting that the government needs to do more to increase the availability of services to these categories of children health and education among other sectors.

She said inclusion should be targeted for kids irrespective of their developmental delays.

“They should be educated within the same settings as their typically developing peers. This means that they will be in the same classrooms as their peers but they will be managed based on their specific skills. A child is first a child before autism. Let’s provide the support that the child needs to make the child successful,” said Bamigboye who is also a researcher for the National Economic Summit on Neuroscience and Early Childhood Development.

Since 2010, the conference has connected specialists in areas including speech therapy, behavioural analysis, clinical psychology and developmental psychiatry with parents, guardians and caregivers of children living with autism.

This year, it addressed the “Theme Life Beyond the Diagnosis”.

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