Because of their peculiar sociocultural background, healthcare workers in sub-Saharan African subcultures may have various conceptions on different aspects of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), such as etiology, treatment and issues of prognosis. These various conceptions, if different from current knowledge in literature about ASD, may negatively influence help-seeking behavior of parents of children with ASD who seek advice and information from the healthcare workers. This study assessed the opinions of healthcare workers in Nigeria on aspects of etiology, treatability and preventability of childhood autism, and relates their opinions to the sociodemographic variables.
Healthcare workers working in four tertiary healthcare facilities located in the south-east and south-south regions of Nigeria were interviewed with a sociodemographic questionnaire, personal opinion on etiology, treatability and preventability of childhood autism (POETPCA) questionnaire and knowledge about childhood autism among health workers (KCAHW) questionnaire to assess their knowledge and opinions on various aspects of childhood autism.
A total of 134 healthcare workers participated in the study. In all, 78 (58.2%), 19 (14.2%) and 36 (26.9%) of the healthcare workers were of the opinion that the etiology of childhood autism can be explained by natural, preternatural and supernatural causes, respectively. One (0.7%) of the healthcare workers was unsure of the explanation of the etiology. Knowledge about childhood autism as measured by scores on the KCAHW questionnaire was the only factor significantly associated with the opinions of the healthcare workers on etiology of childhood autism. In all, 73 (54.5%) and 43 (32.1%), of the healthcare workers subscribed to the opinion that childhood autism is treatable and preventable respectively. Previous involvement with managing children with ASD significantly influenced the opinion of the healthcare workers in subscribing to treatability of childhood autism, while working experience of less than 6 years among the healthcare workers significantly influenced the opinion of the healthcare workers in admitting to believing in the preventability of childhood autism.
In designing policies and programs to change negative opinions or beliefs of healthcare workers about childhood autism, there is a need for baseline information such as this survey. Changing the negative opinions or beliefs of the healthcare workers about childhood autism should encourage appropriate help-seeking behavior among parents of children with ASD who may be seeking advice or information from the healthcare workers. This would encourage early interventions, which are essential to prognosis of childhood autism.