Apr 2024 2nd edition

Department calls for support for those living with autism

The Department of Health has urged families and communities to support individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also known as autism, to thrive and reach their full potential, and to refrain from discriminating against them.

Every year, on 2 April, World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated to empower and help autistic people lead a full life. 

The day is also used to empower the public, health and welfare service providers with information, dispel misconceptions, and promote a deeper understanding of autism to help eradicate stigma and discrimination by fostering a more inclusive environment for autistic persons and their families.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about one in every 100 children globally has autism. 

In South Africa, the Department of Health said local studies have found the prevalence of autism to be between 0.08% and 2%. 
“This condition is mainly found to be more prevalent in males than females,” the department said. 

Autism can be a life-long condition, but according to the department, through appropriate and tailored support, children and adults with autism can make significant progress and live fulfilling lives.

“Autistic individuals, as well as their parents and caregivers, often face many challenges, but these do not have to define them because they have the same health needs and rights as the general population. They may, in addition, have specific healthcare needs related to autism or other co-occurring conditions requiring attention, support and care," the department said.

People with ASD have unique physical, social, mental healthcare and educational needs because of their conditions. 

Developmental milestones screening is one of the key interventions to detect disorders like ASD to facilitate early interventions, as studies have shown that the median age of diagnosis of these conditions is between 18 to 24 months. 

In South Africa, the Road to Health Booklet or clinic card issued to all children at birth helps parents monitor each child's health and development until the age of five. 

According to the department, early diagnosis and intervention of autism can significantly impact the child’s development and help families understand their child’s strengths and challenges and create a personalised treatment and support plan. 

Parents are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the educational information contained in the clinic card.

Although there is no cure for autism spectrum disorders, some medications are used to help people with ASD function better by treating co-occurring symptoms such as;

  • high energy levels
  • inability to focus
  • self-harming behaviour, including head banging or hand biting. 

Treatment can also help manage co-occurring mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, and physical conditions such as seizures and sleep problems.

“If you suspect that you or your family member or child may be having autism spectrum disorder, visit your nearest health care facility or provider for screening and assessment to enable them to provide the necessary interventions, or refer where necessary,” the department advised. ¥ – SAnews.gov.za

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