Medical Director, Federal Neuro-psychiatry Hospital, Kaduna, Dr Taiwo Lateef Sheikh has advised Nigerian women to seek good hospital services during pregnancy and childbirth to prevent complications that could predispose their babies to developing autism later in life.
Dr Seriki gave the advice at the opening of a three-day workshop on Autism and other Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Identification, Diagnosis and Management in the 21st Century.
It was organised by Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CCAMH) in collaboration with Faculty of Psychiatry, West African College of Physicians.
Dr Seriki stated that conditions in pregnancy and during childbirth such as childbirth accidents, eclampsia, and obstructed labour tend to contribute to development of autism-related conditions later in life.
The Chair, Faculty of Psychiatry, West African College of Physicians, remarking that autism was better prevented than treated, cautioned also against having children in extreme of age to reduce chances of giving birth to children with autism.
According to him, “Autism, like some other conditions like Down Syndrome and mongolism, are linked to parental age. The tendency for genetic accidents to happen is higher in extreme of ages.”
The medical expert described autism as a condition that is characterised by some subtle behavioural changes among children that parents may start to notice recognising after birth at about age two.
“They will rather see it as a problem of the child not conducting himself properly. A lot of people really do not recognise that it could be an illness. It is quite common.
“It is something that we are seeing more and more of it, especially now that survival of children is better and the society is becoming more sophisticated.”
The expert added, “when a child is not in an intellectually challenging environment or where some certain degree of social norms is expected, you may not get to notice it.”
Currently in Nigeria, Dr Seriki stated that two out of every 1000 children seen at any psychiatry clinic, especially in Northern Nigeria, has autism-related conditions.
Dr Cornelius Ani, a UK-based consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist listed causes of autism as both genetic and environmental, adding that it has nothing to do with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine that children are given.
Dr Ani said since the risk of autism occurring in siblings and in future children in higher when a child is diagnosed, parents need to be talked to about the medical condition as this may affect their decision later in life.
Director, CCAMH and workshop host, Professor Olayinka Omigbodun added that autism-related disorders, in her encounters with affected children and adolescents, distraught and troubled parents and baffled teachers in Nigeria have often left her feeling frustrated and powerless.