By ZURAH NAKABUGO
Maternal infections, drug use during pregnancy, preterm -delivery, post- term –delivery, gestational diabetes and small gestational age are some of the risks associated with autism disorders that is affecting many of Ugandan children within the country.
This is why the Vermilion Foundation drive have once again this year 2022, started a public fundraising donation campaign of food and other services like clothes to autistic homes that have lost about 95 per cent of their funds due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Autistic homes, mainly cater for children that are suffering from autism. Some of these homes include Noah’s ark Entebbe and Dorna Centre for autism in ntinda.
Autism is a neuro-development disorder that affects, growth, communication and interpersonal relations. It mostly affects the nervous system and which has to be medically diagnosed.
It is usually diagnosed in the early stages of life before or at three years.
According to Shamim Mujomba, the Publicist Vermilion Foundation, autistic children do not physically differ from others, they however exhibit some differences noticeable right from childhood.
“Babies without autism normally love cuddles, hugs and all physical forms of affection, however autistic babies act indifferent towards love and affection.Failure to form attachments due to communication barriers, this makes them withdraw into themselves as they grow older,” she says.
Mujomba says, autistic children have delayed communication development in form of speech and hearing. Their speech is usually limited to humming and babbling.
“ In most cases, these children have lower than normal intelligence although some fall under normal intelligence range. This is why we sensitize people about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) since it’s a new disease with little information and research about people and medics.
Mujomba says, some of the symptoms bearing children with ASDs include, compulsive disorder, self-harm, repetitive action, pacing up and down, hyperactivity, isolation among other rare behaviors in children.
“ This is why, early recognition of the ASD can help to maintain it and eliminate some of the severe characteristics through life lessons such as anger management, technology practices, friendships, art, and puzzle solving problems and othes,” she says.
Other ASD symptoms in children with neurological disorders include family history of mental and neurological disorders, the presence of comorbid psychiatric disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and intellectual disability. .
Mujomba requested the public to support the autistic children during these trying moments of inflation in the country, by donating at least Shs 10,000, visit their homes, rendering medical support and counselling them.
“Therapies such as speech, psychiatry, neurology can as well help to improve some of the ASD characteristics. Eating food with nutritional supplements such as calcium, magnesium, coenzyme q10, vitamin B-complex, niacin and vitamin C, helps to boost the immunity of the affected child, maintain the mood and social activity,” she says.
“Gingko biloba a natural herb can as well be given in supplement form as it is a free radical scavenger that protects the brain cells and improves its function by improving circulation to the brain.Docosahexaenoicacid ( DHA) found in omega 3 is as well very vital and important to help with cognitive reaction and development,” Mujomba adds.
She advised Ugandans to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder, and then spread awareness about it, for society to accept it without attaching it to superstitious beliefs and mynths.
According to Dr Enoch Mulwanyi, the Whispers Magical Children’s hospital Jinja, autism disease will continue to affect children in the country because the public have less interest and research about it yet it affacts a big number of children in the country.
“Imagine living in a world when you have a disease which is marginalized by the public with less research and interests to create awareness. This makes the culprits suffer in isolation and in the long run deteriorating. Despite the large burden of childhood neurological disorders in Uganda, there is limited information on autism disorders amongst children with neurological disorders in Uganda,” Mulwanyi says.
The risk factors associated with autism disorders include, include gestational diabetes, maternal infections and drug use during pregnancy, caesarean delivery, preterm delivery, post-term delivery, low Apgar score and small for gestational age.
Children with neurological disorders are reported to have increased chances of receiving an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis and higher rate of problems associated with Autism compared with those without neurological disorders.
Studies have shown significant association between inability to speak and significant ASD symptoms. The lack of expressive speech has been described as a common finding in African children with ASD.
Lagunju and colleagues reported that more than 50% of children with ASDs in a neurology clinic in Nigeria were non-verbal.
Mulwanyi says, the most effective treatments available today for autism disorders include behavioral analysis, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, physical therapy and pharmacological therapy.
Awareness amongst clinicians about the likelihood that a number of children with neurological disorders in Uganda might be experiencing significant ASD-related challenges should be considered as a positive drive towards the autism awareness campaign.
Mulwanyi advised clinicians have access to and use screening instruments to enable them to identify these problems that may pose a great challenge to the affected children and their families.
“ Emphasis can be placed on children who present with delays in developmental milestones,” he says.