Autism and its effect on the African community

Autism is a general term for neurological developmental disorders that affect the normal functioning of the brain. In 2013, several types of disorders were merged under one umbrella called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

These different types of disorders include childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) and Asperger syndrome.

Symptoms of autism typically appear during the first three years of life and impact development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities.

Some examples include not responding to social cues, isolated play and a lack of communication.

“Stimming,” or self-stimulatory behavior, is very common in children with autism. These behaviors include flapping, rocking, spinning, and walking on tip toes.

Autism is called a spectrum disorder because it affects people differently and at varying degrees. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in every 88 children in the U.S. has ASD.

What causes ASD?

There are many questions about what causes autism. Autism risk factors include events that happened before and during birth.

These include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy.

There is also the issue of difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain.

According to doctors, these factors by themselves do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk.

The rapid raise of autism over the last 20 years cannot solely be contributed to genetics.

While mainstream media discount vaccinations as a cause, the National Autism Association feels that an overly aggressive vaccination schedule along with other environmental exposures can trigger autism in children, especially those genetically predisposed to immune conditions.

Treating autism

Currently there is no cure for autism. Early intervention is a key front in the battle to treat autism.

Raising a child with autism can be difficult for anyone, however in the black community there are additional challenges that may affect us.

On the average, African children with autism are two years older than white children before they're even diagnosed. The reasons for this include a lack of access to quality and affordable health care.

Currently, there is no medical test that can diagnose autism. Autism-specific evaluations are done by specially-trained physicians and psychologists. Oftentimes, brain scans are included in the diagnosis process.

The African working class rarely has access to this kind of medical evaluation. Education for not just the child with autism but for family and those close to the child is very important for the child’s development.

Another front in the battle to treat autism is through educational services. This includes occupational, speech/language and physical therapies. This is available privately in some locations.

However due to high costs and low availability, most African children receive services through their local public school district. It is well known and documented that the schools we attend do not serve our best interests, on top of being in dire need of finances and restructuring.

Funding is just not adequate enough for the average African working class family.

These days the best way to get your child access to better services is to move to a school district that has programs available for children with autism.

However, this is nearly impossible because we simply cannot afford to live in the areas with the quality of services we need.

Although it’s the doctors who usually diagnose autism, it tends to be the school districts that provide treatment for most African children with autism.

Most health insurance does not cover most autism-related services, so most African children are at the mercy of their inadequate local public school district’s services.

Access to a quality education that speaks to our needs as African people is a contradiction in the public school system in general, and that contradiction is even more complicated for the African child with autism.

Point number 51 of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement’s (InPDUM) RNDP states, “We demand free, compulsory and comprehensive education for all Africans wherever we are located. Such an education program must equip Africans for independent, self-reliant prosperity…”

This not only applies to typical African children, but also our children with special needs.

African children with autism are often misdiagnosed with other disorders such as ADHD, mental retardation, or conduct disorder. Other times its viewed as just bad behavior and a lack of “home training” and therefore ignored.

The fact that this perception exists causes additional problems when it comes to properly diagnosing autism in African children.

Ultimately, the fight for African children with autism lies in the fight for control over our own community and the ability to meet our own needs including education and treatment.

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