Autism in Kenya
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological, developmental disease that manifests itself in children mostly before the age of two. The condition is a long-term one caused by genetic and environmental factors. There are three types of autism including autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome and atypical autism.
For a long time, Kenyans were ignorant about the condition leading to discrimination, stigma, murder, and isolation of the victims in the belief that they were possessed. However, advances in medicine and research have enabled parents and the society to recognize the disorder and deal with it effectively. In this regard, several organizations dealing with autism have been established including the Autism Society of Kenya and the Autism Support Centre (Kenya).
These organizations work in spreading awareness about autism, helping in the diagnosis of the disorder, providing speech and behavioral therapy and counseling to parents on how to improve the lives of autistic children. The autism bodies also set up educational institutions that have trained personnel to handle autistic individuals in helping them lead a life that is as normal as possible.
Autism is characterized by
- Restricted and repetitive behavior
- Challenges in social interaction (such as failure to maintain eye contact and difficulties in speaking)
- Limited verbal and non-verbal communication
- Unique abilities and weaknesses in some areas. Children with autism may show great love and excellence in mathematics and arts.
- Problems with motor coordination
- Health issues such as gastrointestinal upsets and sleep disturbance
Symptoms may vary from one individual to another with some experiencing mild symptoms while others manifest severe symptoms. The symptoms usually manifest themselves by the time the child is three years.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis of autism depends on the identification of symptoms by primary caregivers. The child should be taken to a development consultant to have them analyzed. While autism is a lifelong and incurable disorder, early diagnosis and intervention go a long way in helping the child lead a normal life as possible.
Autism is associated with gastrointestinal disorders, which may arise from the nutritional components consumed by autistic persons. Autism may lead to problems with detoxification, digestion, gut integrity and immunity leading to problems such as diarrhea, bloating, constipation and gut inflammation.
Understanding these shortcomings is important in the diet therapy of autistic people. Food specialists dealing with autistic people recommend the exclusion of certain ingredients in the diet such as wheat, preservatives, soy, casein, red meat, milk, sugar, yeast, and gluten. The inclusion of these ingredients worsens the symptoms of autism as the food is poorly digested interfering even with brain functions. Diet for autistic individuals may include vegetables, ugali, fruits, beans, chicken, foods rich in omega-3 fats, bananas, pro and prebiotics for a healthy gut, and asparagus. Some fruits such as apples, grapes, and berries may also worsen the symptoms.
It is important for caregivers to ensure that autistic individuals eat healthy and nutritious meals to improve their condition. Nutritional therapy should take time with a single food being introduced at a time to analyze its impact on the person. Introducing these foods slowly will also eliminate stress from the caregivers.
Autistic children are a special needs group and require special guidance and care during their schooling years. While most autistic children improve with age, it is important to provide them with the best environment during their formative years. Some of the schools that are specialized in dealing with autism in Kenya include Angels on Earth in Nyali, St. Gerald’s Centre for Children with Autism, Bridgewood School, Nairobi, City Primary School (autism unit) and Kestrel Manor School. Most of these schools are privately owned and therefore expensive for most Kenyan parents. However, some public schools integrate autism units in their special needs schools.