KZN HEALTH MEC's World Autism Day plea: "Partner with us, improve your health literacy and understanding, and make the world a better place for living with autism and other health disorders"

02 April 2022

KWAZULU-Natal Health MEC Ms Nomagugu Simelane is asking citizens to take the time to learn about diseases and disorders such as Autism, so that those who suffer from them can receive support rather than be subjected to stigma and discrimination.

MEC Simelane's plea comes as World Autism Awareness Day is being commemorated globally today, under the theme 'Inclusive Quality Education for All.'

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, is described as a developmental disorder that affects peopl's ability to behave, interact, and learn in ways that are different from those considered "normal."

While some people with autism can live independently, others may have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. Autism often has an impact on their education and employment opportunities.

It is said that autism accounts for 1 to 2 % of the global population. However, due to lack of awareness, many cases of autism may go undiagnosed and data about them may not always be precise.

MEC Simelane says: "Autism, especially among Black people, may be regarded as a 'new' disorder, when the truth is that it actually isn't. It’s just that there hasn't been enough awareness about it. For a very long time, children with disorders such as autism were wrongly- 'diagnosed' at home and miscategorised.

"They would then be referred to as 'sick in the head' or 'slow'...It is therefore very, very important that as a society, we educate ourselves about them.

"As the KZN Department of Health, we are very serious about going into communities to conduct health promotion, and educate people so that we can improve their awareness about diseases.

"Matters of health are societal in nature and character. It is therefore critical that we partner with our communities. We have a responsibility to talk to them about all diseases, including new ones such as COVID-19, and no-so-new ones such as autism and many others, which many people have not generally been aware of.

"So, it's extremely important that communities consume this information, because knowledge is power. When you are well-informed, you can take better decisions, which can lead you to a healthier and better life."

According to the Centres for Disease Control, some of the social communication and interaction characteristics of people living with autism may include:

-Avoiding or not keeping eye contact
-A child not responding to their name by 9 months of age
-Not displaying facial expressions like happy, sad, angry, and surprised by 9 months of age
-Not playing simple interactive games
-Using only a few or no gestures by 12 months of age
-Not sharing interests with others by 15 months of age
-Not pointing to show their parents something interesting by 18 months of age
-Not pretending to be something else, like a teacher or superhero, during play by 48 months of age
-Not singing, dancing, or acting for their parents by 60 months of age.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may also exhibit restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests, such as:

-Lining up toys or other objects and getting upset when order is changed
-Repeating words or phrases over and over (called echolalia)
-Playing with toys the same way every time
-Focusing on parts of objects (for example, wheels)
-Getting upset by minor changes
-Having obsessive interests
-Following certain routines
-Flapping hands, rocking the body, or spinning themselves in circles
-Having unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel.

MEC Simelane says: "Parents or guardians whose children show any of the above symptoms are urged to visit their nearest Primary Health Care clinic, where their children will be assessed. Depending on the severity of the condition, they will then be referred to the appropriate higher level of care."

ENDS Issued by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health

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This page last edited on 07 April, 2022

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