Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Africa: a perspective

14 Sep

A recent article takes a look at autism in Africa. The author is from Nigeria, the journal from South Africa. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Africa: a perspective looks as though it doesn’t go into great depth “the situation in Africa on aspects of ASD remain unclear”. An that is a major point: there isn’t much data to work from. Autism is just not studied globally yet.

Here is the abstract:



The universal occurrence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) was queried about twenty-six years ago. It was thought to occur only in western industrialized countries with high technological development. Over the last decade, knowledge about ASD and its prevalence has been documented as being on the rise in different regions of the world, with most literature coming from the western world – the situation in Africa on aspects of ASD remain unclear.


Literature cited in Pubmed over the last decade on aspects of epidemiology, diagnosis, aetiology and knowledge of ASD in the African context were assessed. Keywords: autism, diagnosis, aetiology, knowledge and Africa were variously combined in the literature search.


No study specifically addressed the epidemiology of ASD in Africa. One of the two studies that were relevant addressed epidemiology of ASD in Arab countries, though included two Northern African countries. A higher proportion of non-verbal cases of ASD compared to verbal cases was documented in literature coming from Africa. Associated co-morbid disorders included intellectual disability, epilepsy and oculo-cutaneous albinism. Aetiological factors postulated included post-encephalitic infection, genetic and auto-immune factors, and vitamin D deficiency. Knowledge about ASD in Africa was noted to be low.


There is a need for epidemiological studies in Africa to define the magnitude of the problem of ASD and the characteristics of children affected by ASD in this region. This would help in planning and might be helpful in answering the question of aetiology of ASD. Policy making needs to be directed at issues of childhood developmental disorders in Africa.

One thing I would point out: autism isn’t really well understood in the developed/western world yet either. It’s just better reserched and understood. Someday we will look back and be amazed at questions we misunderstood or didn’t even know to ask. That is, someday if we put the effort in now to keep a high level of research focus on autism.

Which leads me to point out (and go off topic): In the U.S. the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act is being considered by congress. Senate Bill 1094 is 163rd in line for consideration. That doesn’t sound so good with the possibility that the legislature will recess without considering the bill. At the very least, the Combating Autism Act is set to sunset in 2 weeks. It seems highly unlikely that the reauthorization will be approved (if at all) in time.

2 Responses to “Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Africa: a perspective”

  1. Julian Frost September 14, 2011 at 07:12 #

    As a South African, this is very interesting. Thanks for posting this, Sullivan.


  1. Autism Blog – Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Africa: a … | My Autism Site | All About Autism - September 14, 2011

    […] Read more: Autism Blog – Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Africa: a … […]

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