Original Research

Clinical profile of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder in Durban, South Africa

Manisharani Gangai, Enver Karim, Saeeda Paruk
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 30 | a2230 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v30i0.2230 | © 2024 Manisharani Gangai, Enver Karim, Saeeda Paruk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 November 2023 | Published: 14 May 2024

About the author(s)

Manisharani Gangai, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Enver Karim, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Saeeda Paruk, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Abstract

Background: There are often delays in accessing care and diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), with little data from Southern Africa on the clinical profile of affected children and adolescents.

Aim: To describe the socio-demographic and clinical variables of children and adolescents with ASD attending psychiatric services at two state hospitals in eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa.

Setting: Two state hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa.

Methods: The retrospective chart review examined patient records for the period 01 January 2018 to 31 December 2021. Data were collated using a structured data questionnaire on birth and family history, current presentation, comorbid conditions, medications, and non-pharmacological interventions.

Results: Of the 67 children and adolescents accessing care for ASD during the study period (including the coronavirus disease 2019 [COVID-19] pandemic lockdown period), most were males (89%), with a mean age standard deviation (s.d.) of 10.69 (s.d. 2.64) years. There was a delay between recognition of first symptoms and an ASD diagnosis of approximately three years. The most common reasons for referral were behavioural problems and speech delay, with 57 patients having delayed milestones (85%). Comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was reported in 55.2% (n = 37) of the patients and intellectual disability in 50.7% (n = 34), and the commonest comorbid medical condition was epilepsy (n = 20; 29.8%). All participants were on psychotropic medications, with 40 (59%) being on more than one agent.

Conclusion: The delay in diagnosing ASD, high rates of comorbidity, and need for polypharmacy are concerning.

Contribution: The study highlights the need for greater awareness of ASD in communities and health care workers to expedite diagnosis and facilitate prompt psychosocial support and rehabilitation.


Keywords

autism spectrum disorder; clinical features; children and adolescents; South Africa; Durban, sociodemographic profile

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

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