Perceived Causes of Autism in Rural and Urban Multi-Cultural Context on the Kenyan Coast

Thursday, May 15, 2014: 1:55 PM
Marquis D (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
J. K. Gona1, C. R. Newton1,2, K. Rimba1, R. Mapenzi1, M. Kihara1,3 and A. Abubakar1,4,5, (1)Centre for Geographic Medicine Research (Coast), Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kilifi, Kenya, (2)Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom, (3)Psychology Department, United States International University-Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, (4)Department of Psychology, Tilburg University, Tilburg, Netherlands, (5)Department of Child and Adolescent Studies, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
Background: Different cultures have different beliefs on perceived causes of autism. Cultural values and beliefs on perceived causes of autism may determine which treatment families will accept or reject. The role of religion in multi-cultural settings also offers a major basis of support for families of children with autism. Autism studies in rural and urban settings within a multi-cultural context investigating perceived causes of autism have not been conducted in Kenya. This study interviewed participants from rural and urban settings with different religious persuasions from the coastal region of Kenya to establish perceived causes of autism.

Objectives:  (a) to determine perceived causes of autism in a multi-cultural context; (b) to establish whether religion influences the way people perceive causes of autism.

Methods:  We recruited a total of 104 participants consisting of parents of children with and without autism, teachers, clinicians, social workers and project managers from different ethnic and religious backgrounds living in rural and urban settings on the Kenyan Coast. Interviews and focus group discussions were the methods of data collection. The interviews and the focus group discussions were recorded, transcribed and translated into English; and imported to the NVIVO 7 program for storage and management. Content analysis was utilized to analyze the data. The text was read thrice for familiarization to identify key issues. The data were coded using free nodes to identify consistencies and differences. All the free nodes with similar messages were grouped into tree nodes each bearing a name of a theme. Connections within and between themes were identified for interpretation. 

Results: Cultural beliefs in evil spirits, witchcraft and curse were viewed to cause autism by participants from both rural and urban settings. In addition, biomedical causes such as brain insults, malnutrition, misuse of drugs and perinatal complications were stated. The potential role of genetic influences was also cited. There were no indications of religious influences on perceived causes of autism

Conclusions: The results revealed that participants held similar views despite coming from different settings with cultural and religious diversity. Knowledge on perceived causes of autism and its impact on treatment of autism may provide valuable conceptual understanding for health and education practitioners working with parents of children with autism in these settings.

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