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Health News of Monday, 22 April 2013

Source: GNA

Some public officers exhibit autistic disorders - Expert

Mrs Serwah Quaynor, Founder and Director of Autistic Awareness, Care and Training Centre (AATC) in Accra has observed that the weird behaviour of some public office holders and professionals show symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders.

She said although the disorder is widespread, successive governments have not paid the needed attention to train persons with autism.

Mrs Quaynor who made the observation in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said autism is usually characterised by delays or abnormal functioning before the age of three in one or more domains.

That is social interaction, communication and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities.

She explained that persons with autistic disorders do not socially interact well with others and show lack of interest in, or rejection of physical contact.

Unfortunately in Ghana, parents describe autistic infants as "unaffectionate or witches or cursed ones," but Mrs Quoynor said such accusations are only superstitious beliefs borne out of ignorance.

“Autistic infants and children are usually not comforted by physical contact, they avoid making eye contact with others, as well as fail to develop friends or interact with other children,” she said.

She said those children do not communicate well with others and have delayed speech.

Mrs Quaynor said such children have echolalia, that is they utter words or phrases repeatedly.

They also demonstrate repetitive behaviours such as rocking and hand or finger flapping and are preoccupied, usually with lights, moving objects, or parts of objects and do not like noise, said Mrs Quaynor.

She said while adults cannot develop autism, there are some instances where people had not been diagnosed as autistic until they grow up.

Autistic adults might be obsessed with a subject or object and whenever they are forced away from that subject or a set schedule, they will panic and might become angry.

If an adult has severe autism they simply cannot communicate in a way so as to be able to hold a job and oftentimes are unable to take care of themselves.

“Regardless of the type of autism that a person has, they will find themselves being greatly bothered by what doesn't bother another person.

“This may be something as simple as moving a picture from one place to another or going to a different restaurant as they are use to,” Mrs Quaynor added.

She said in Ghana many people show such behaviours in the offices, on radio or television talk shows, yet there is no policy to deal with autistic cases.

Mrs Quaynor said though autism is not a disease, the phenomenon is more worrying when most parents because of stigma and superstition, hide their children and refuse to send them for training or hire a specialist to train them.

She called on the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service to revise the school curriculum to train autistic specialists as well as create more autistic training centres to address the challenge.

AATC is a non- profit making organisation that seeks to raise awareness of autism in Ghana and to find appropriate care for children who are affected by the developmental disability.

The centre which has 40 trainees provides training and educational services to children with autism in order for them to function more effectively in the society.

The centre also offers life-skills training, art and music therapy, respite care for families as well as education programmes for caregivers. Approximately 15 out of every 10,000 children born are diagnosed with autism. Autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, with four times as many boys affected than girls.

A number of prenatal and perinatal complications such as maternal gestational diabetes, maternal and paternal age of more than 30 years, bleeding after first trimester, use of prescription medication during pregnancy, and meconium in the amniotic fluid have been reported as possible risk factors for autism.