More hurdles for people with autism in Africa

Videos of the boys appear in “Autism: Breaking the Silence,” a special edition of VOA’s weekly Straight Talk Africa TV program. It was recorded Wednesday before a small studio audience of people who live with the condition or deal with it professionally.

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While autism generally is associated with low IQ, the condition also affects people with high mental abilities.
Representational image, pixabay

The 4-year-old Cote d’Ivoire boy couldn’t walk, speak or feed himself. He was so unlike most other kids that his grandparents hesitated to accept him. The slightly older Kenyan boy was so restless that his primary-school teachers beat him, until they discovered he was a star pupil.

The two children reveal different faces of autism — and how society sometimes reacts to the condition.

Videos of the boys appear in “Autism: Breaking the Silence,” a special edition of VOA’s weekly Straight Talk Africa TV program. It was recorded Wednesday before a small studio audience of people who live with the condition or deal with it professionally.

The program’s goal: to help demystify and deepen understanding of autism spectrum disorder. It affects the brain’s normal development, often compromising an individual’s ability to communicate, interact socially or control behavior. The condition can range from mild to severe.

New CDC findings

New findings released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate an increase in autism’s prevalence in the United States.

Some of those indicators could mislead when assessing African children, said panelist Morenike Giwa Onaiwu, a Texas-based member of the Autism Women’s Network.
Spinner, Pixabay

The agency estimates it affects 1 in 59 children, up from 1 in 68 several years ago and 1 in 150 almost two decades ago. The research is based on studies of more than 300,000 8-year-olds in 11 U.S. states.

Globally, one out of every 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder, the World Health Organization reports. Rates of autism are harder to determine in low- and middle-income countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa with limited access to clinicians.

Everywhere, “poor people get diagnosed later,” Scott Badesch, president of the Autism Society of America, said in a video overview that set the stage for discussion. “… There’s more services today than ever before but there’s nowhere near the services needed for all who need help.”

A complex condition

Stigma and superstition can heighten the challenges.

In parts of Africa, youngsters with autism “are labeled as devils and they’re not diagnosed and they are not given treatment,” Bernadette Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone who runs BK Behavioral Health Center in a Washington suburb, commented from the audience.

Some people believe the disorder is punishment for a parent’s bad behavior or an affliction that can be prayed away, said Mary Amoah, featured with 15-year-old daughter Renata in a related VOA video.

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“They don’t understand this is purely a medical condition. It can happen to anyone regardless of your background,” said Amoah, coordinator at a treatment center in Accra, Ghana, for children with disabilities. “A lot needs to be done in our part of the world in terms of education, acceptance and understanding.”

Causes

Researchers haven’t determined the exact cause of autism, though they cite genetic and environmental factors.

Panelist Susan Daniels, who directs the office of autism research coordination for the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, stressed that research supported by the NIH and CDC shows no link to childhood vaccines.

Though the condition has no cure, early intervention can improve the quality of life for people with autism and their families.

Parents need to observe their children closely from infancy, advised Dr. Usifo Edward Asikhia, clinical director of the International Training Center for Applied Behavior Analysis in Lagos, Nigeria.

“When you have a baby at the age of 12 [months] that cannot babble, that’s a signal,” he said. Another is an inability to grasp objects, a sign of low muscle tone common in autism.

Other hallmarks include lack of eye contact or sensitivity to sounds, Daniels said. She added that a definitive diagnosis “can’t really be done accurately until age 2. But most kids aren’t diagnosed by then.”

“Children with autism in Africa tend to be diagnosed around age 8, about four years later, on average, than their American counterparts,” the Spectrum Autism Research News site reported in December.

Call for cultural sensitivity

Some of those indicators could mislead when assessing African children, said panelist Morenike Giwa Onaiwu, a Texas-based member of the Autism Women’s Network.

“In a lot of African cultures, it’s customary not to make direct eye contact. That’s not a red flag,” said Onaiwu, whose parents came from Nigeria and who learned she was autistic only when two of her own six kids were positively identified with autism. “In terms of not babbling? We speak when we have something to say. … Certain things culturally may be missed because of the way diagnostic criteria are viewed through Western standards.”

While autism generally is associated with low IQ, the condition also affects people with high mental abilities.

If they can “express themselves in some way, they’re actually geniuses,” said panelist Tracy Freeman, a Washington-area physician who has an autistic child. “Their challenge is neurodiversity and getting people to recognize their intelligence.”

At one point in the discussion, moderator Linord Moudou noticed Onaiwu twisting a metal coil in her hands. Onaiwu explained that the repurposed Christmas ornament is a “stimming” device for repetitive motion that provides relaxing sensory stimulation.

Asikhia said families dealing with autism had few public supports in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa. Most schools lack training in developmental delays that should be flagged for physicians, he said.
African Child, Pexels

“It helps to calm me,” Onaiwu said. She has other strategies: “Sometimes you might see me rocking. … This kind of helps me to navigate in the neurotypical world.”

Growing role for governments?

Asikhia said families dealing with autism had few public supports in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa. Most schools lack training in developmental delays that should be flagged for physicians, he said.

“Those teachers just don’t know what to do,” he added.

Many African countries lack laws ensuring public education or health interventions for youngsters with autism or other developmental disorders.

But Chiara Servili, a child neuropsychiatrist and WHO technical adviser on mental health, sees rising interest. Representatives of more than 60 countries supported a 2014 WHO resolution urging member nations to develop policies and laws to ease “the global burden of mental disorders” and to devote “sufficient human, financial and technical resources.”

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Many governments once focused just on improving child mortality rates, she said in a phone interview. Now, there’s “much more awareness not only that they survive but thrive. There is a new focus on early childhood development.”

The WHO is trying to improve supports for family caregivers as well as for teachers, social workers and other professionals in positions to encourage clinical evaluation, Servili said.

With international partners, the organization has developed a guide for caregivers, usually parents, to nurture children with developmental issues. For instance, “we teach them strategies so they can better engage children in play. Sit down at the level of the child. Provide some toys or some object from the house, observe what the child is doing and try to follow the lead,” Servili said. “… Reinforce any attempt to communicate.” (VOA)

 

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Having a Pet Can Reduce Stress For Both Children and Adults

Pets may relieve stress for parents of kids with autism: Study

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pet family
Aa family pet can lead to strong bonds and reduced stress for both children with autism and their parents. Pixabay

Researchers have found that a family pet can lead to strong bonds and reduced stress for both children with autism and their parents.

According to the study, parents of children with autism report higher levels of stress on average than parents of typically developing kids.

“Some kids with autism have specific sensitivities, so a big, loud dog that is highly active might cause sensory overload for a particular child, while a quiet cat may be a better fit,” said study researcher Gretchen Carlisle from the University of Missouri in the US.

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“My goal is to provide parents with evidence-based information so they can make informed choices for their families,” Carlisle added.

For the results, the research team surveyed more than 700 families from the ‘Interactive Autism Network’ on the benefits and burdens of having a dog or cat in the family.

pet family
Having a family pet can help increase social interaction and decrease anxiety. Pixabay

They found that despite the responsibility of pet care, both children with autism and their parents reported strong bonds with their pets. Pet ownership was not related to parent stress, and parents with multiple pets reported more benefits.

“Given that the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder are so broad, it can be difficult to identify interventions that are widely beneficial,” Carlisle said. Some of the core challenges that children with autism face include anxiety and difficulty communicating.

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“As pets can help increase social interaction and decrease anxiety, we found that they are not only helpful in providing comfort and support to children with autism, but to their parents as well,” she said.

For parents considering adding a pet into their family, Carlisle recommends including the child in the decision and making sure the pet’s activity level is a good match with the child’s. (IANS)

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Voodoo Even in U.S.A?

This religious practice has always been misunderstood

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Voodoo
This practice is a whole assortment of cultural elements: personal creeds and practices, including an elaborate system of folk medical practices.

By Kashish Rai

Voodoo is a sensationalized pop-culture caricature of voudon, an Afro-Caribbean religion that originated in Haiti, Western and Central Africa. Though, it’s followers can be found in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, the United States of America and elsewhere.

This practice is a whole assortment of cultural elements: personal creeds and practices, including an elaborate system of folk medical practices; a system of ethics transmitted across generations including proverbs, stories, songs and folklore. This practice is more than a belief.

More so, this religious practice has always been misunderstood.

Listen to this priestess named Miriam Chamani having an experience of 30 years. She has her Voodoo temple in New Orleans where people can learn more about faith.

Watch Full Video Here:

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Witness one of Miriam’s sessions and the different ways she is helping her clients find their spiritual center.

 

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Yoga During Quarantine can be Beneficial for Autistic Children

Make good use of quarantine by teaching your kid some yoga

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Children
Yoga can be helpful during quarantine for children suffering from autism. Pixabay

Children who are autistic tend to have sensory experiences that are very different from others. As children with special needs, they have the kind of responses to situations that put their bodies in fight, flight, or freeze modes.

What this does is it diverts the flow of blood from the digestive organs to the skeletal muscles. This activity disrupts their digestion, increases their heart rate, and causes shallow breathing-which are big factors for anxiety.

Children autism
Autism puts kid’s bodies in fight, flight, or freeze modes. Hence, they have special needs. Pixabay

During this period of quarantine, it is recommended to train them in a few practices of yoga. This will help to increase their sense of peace; reduce their pain, anxiety, aggression, and any obsessive or self-sabotaging behaviour. Yoga along with making them calmer is also successful in regulating emotions.

Brahmari Pranayama

Method

Sit in any comfortable pose (such as Sukhasan, Ardhapadmasan or Padmasana)

Straighten your back and close your eyes

Place your palms on your knees facing up (in Prapthi Mudra)

Place your thumbs on the Tragus, the external flap outside on your ear.

Place your index finger on your forehead; your middle finger on the Medial Canthus and ring finger on the corner of your nostril

Inhale and fill your lungs with air

As you exhale, slowly make a buzzing sound like that of a bee, i.e., “mmmmmmm�.”

Keep your mouth closed the entire time and feel the vibration of the sound disseminate throughout your body. Duration You may begin by practicing this breathing technique for five minutes a day and gradually increase it with time.

Yoga
Brahmari Pranayama Calms body and rejuvenates mind. Pixabay

Benefits

Calms the mind and rejuvenates the body

Increases sensitivity to tastes and fragrances

Relieves stress and anxiety

Makes the voice pleasant and melodious and strengthens the vocal chords

Treats throat uneasiness

Balances blood pressure

Improves concentration

Udgeeth Pranayama

Method

Sit in any comfortable pose (such as Sukhasan, Ardhapadmasan or Padmasana)

Straighten your back and close your eyes

Place your palms on your knees facing up (in Prapthi Mudra)

Inhale deeply and fill your lungs with air

While exhaling, form a circle with your lips and say “Oooooooommm” for as long as you can

Feel the vibration of the sound disseminate throughout your body Duration You may begin by practicing this breathing technique for five minutes a day and gradually increase it with time.

Children yoga
Udgeeth Pranayama relieves tension, anger and anxiety. Pixabay

Benefits

Calms the mind, brings stability and decreases stress

It relieves tension, anger and anxiety

Effective to treat hypertension

Corrects sleep disorders (such as insomnia)

Improves memory

Surya Namaskar or the Sun Salutation can be taught to your child and it is ideal if practiced early in the morning. The Surya Namaskar contains a total number of 8 asanas woven into a sequence of 12 steps for each side, Right and Left. The sun’s energy is represented symbolically through the right side, therefore you must start with the Right leg first. One complete cycle is made of 24 counts.

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There are many benefits of Surya Namaskar; it strengthens muscles and joints, balances the nervous system, improves digestion, promotes balance between both sides of the body, helps combat insomnia and many more.

These postures or asanas along with the breathing exercises are effective relaxation techniques. Yoga provides the tools for self-regulation which can be useful for children with autism. Yoga helps to reduce irritability, social withdrawal, lethargy or hyperactivity, and noncompliance in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Quarantine or otherwise, the practices of is shown to optimize academic or creative engagement and improve learning abilities. (IANS)