Picture: Pixabay
Cape Town – With yesterday being World Autism Day, the South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) highlighted the plight of those living with the disorder.

Autism is found across all countries, ethnic groups and socio-economic classes and affects between about 1-2% of the world’s population, said the organisation.

In 2015, there were just 50 specialist child and adolescent psychiatrists serving the entire population of sub-Saharan Africa.

Sasop member and president of the South African Association of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions Dr Wendy Duncan said there was a need for training for more health professionals.

She said ASD was previously thought of as occurring only in Western industrialised countries “but we now know this not to be true”.

“ASD is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a global public health concern, but almost all that we know about it comes from Western, high-income countries.

“There is a need for more research in South Africa, Africa and the developing world, to understand the nature and prevalence of autism, so that a better response can be developed to assist families and communities, guidance be provided to public health policymakers, appropriate diagnostic tools can be developed and resources such as support and education can be provided.”

She said in many affluent societies, ASD was usually diagnosed by the time the child is three years old, as the symptoms are seen early on in a child’s development and behaviours - the ways that they play, learn, speak or behave, particularly in a social context.

It is diagnosed three to four times more often in boys than girls.

“Access to education for children with autism is crucial. Education plays a critical role in assisting those with autism to develop the social and communication skills to integrate and cope as far as possible with the world around them.

“On the other hand, education of the community at large is important in helping families, educators and communities to modify their expectations of the individual with ASD.”