Autism in Kenya

July 20, 2016

Many authorities in the early 2000s considered autism to be one of several similar conditions that fall on a spectrum, hence the term autism spectrum disorders. The conditions on the spectrum share impairments in three areas: communication skills, social interactions, and repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Classic autism and Asperger syndrome are the most common conditions. Whereas students with autism have relatively severe deficits in all three areas plus severe cognitive deficits, those with Asperger syndrome generally have less severe deficits in all three areas, with their major problem lying in the area of social interactions and some having very high intelligence.

In Kenya, the research is limited. One paper carried out informal interviews and found that especially in the rural areas there is blame placed on witchcraft and sorcery for the cause of autism. Children are therefore hidden instead of treatment being sought. There is no support for the family. Furthermore, the paper elaborated on the treatment protocols in Kenya and the two most used with varying success are Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and TEACCH.

However, these protocols are time consuming, costs a lot of money and can place severe of strain on the family. They involve hours of work with the affected child daily, there needs to be cooperation between the school and the family. This can be limiting too many families in Kenya who may live in the rural areas or not have the access to the resources that are needed.

Furthermore this study highlights how culture, the family and the government can have an effect on the diagnosis and treatment protocol for mental illness. Culture plays such an important role in many Kenyan families. When culture cannot explain an issue it becomes spiritual, or a curse and this is how mental illness is explained in many homes. This was corroborated by both the article and in personal conversations with a professional in Nairobi who works primarily with ASD.