INCREASING HEALTH PROFESSIONALS’ ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE, DIAGNOSE, AND INTERVENE IN AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER CASES IN AFRICA: EXAMPLES FROM SPECIFIC DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES- A LONGITUDINAL CASE STUDY.
Keywords:Autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, nurses, diagnosis, Africa
As awareness surrounding autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Africa has increased, the high rate of non-verbal autism on the continent has come to the fore. Late diagnosis and access to viable interventions are continued concerns. Due to the greater focus on communicable diseases in healthcare curriculums, healthcare professionals frequently do not possess the required knowledge and experience to diagnose cases of neurodevelopmental disorders. Nurses are often the first healthcare professionals to encounter autistic individuals or their families because of being the first professionals whose advice is sought about worrisome symptoms, either by high-functioning individuals with autism or by a worried parent of a newborn or toddler.
A narrative review of healthcare professionals’ knowledge of ASD in Africa provided context for the research and highlighted areas needing focus. A qualitative mixed-method case study was used to highlight symptoms and potential behaviors of autism that healthcare practitioners may face in practice.
A lack of focus on neurodevelopmental disorders in healthcare curriculums has led to an inability to recognize, diagnose, and intervene in ASD cases across Africa, which places a greater burden on families, especially in low-resource settings. Nurses are central in both clinics and communities. Nurses’ ability to discern neurodevelopmental and autistic behavior from typical childhood development is crucial to timely diagnosis and intervention as well as accurate treatment of presenting communicable diseases or co-morbidities. Increasing health professionals’ awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorder should aid in the reduction of undiagnosed and untreated cases.
Healthcare professionals’ ability to diagnose developmental disorders at a younger age, may increase the chances of intervention and autonomy in children with neurodevelopmental disorders and support for families.
In order to facilitate early diagnoses and intervention of neurodevelopmental disorders, greater emphasis needs to be placed on non-communicable diseases in health care curriculums.
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