Effectiveness of Professional Development Training on Autism in Helping Professionals in Ethiopia: A Single Group, Pre-Post Design.
Data is lacking in terms of how autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are identified and managed in Africa, which is a pressing concern as autism prevalence has been increasing. Children with ASD in Africa are diagnosed later than children in other less impoverished areas of the world. This disparity may be related to sub-Saharan educators and helping professionals lacking awareness of ASD. The access to mental health services beyond the aforementioned sources is scarce, expensive, or inaccessible in Ethiopia. This lack of access to services results in limited attention for diagnostic processes, therapeutic interventions, and mistreatment of children. For example, a child in Ethiopia with a mental health diagnosis and challenges is likely to be rejected by public regular schools outright; because special education services are available only in few special schools, and few children have access to services (Tirusew, 2006). Additionally, regular public schools are encouraged, but not required by law, to accept children with disabilities (Zeleke, 2016). Further, most of the special schools are equipped only to provide education to children with visual and hearing impairments (Tirusew, 2006). These policies are a result of the lack of mental health training and limited educational backgrounds of the service providers and low levels of community awareness of mental health disorders. This highlights a need for drastic improvement in training of mental health disorders and interventions for health service professionals to provide adequate and appropriate services for the children they care for.
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to provide educators and health professionals (i.e. teachers, counselors, psychologists, therapists, therapeutic care workers, social workers, and nurses) with a basic understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders over the course of ten in-service training days. Specifically we aim to examine the effectiveness of the training on participants’ knowledge and understanding of the basic features of ASDs and evidence-based interventions associated with ASDs as well as how to tailor the interventions to fit cultural expectations.
Using a single group, pre-post design, the level of awareness, knowledge, and understanding of ASDs treatment and intervention of 35 helping professionals who have been recruited for the professional development training by the host university, was measured. Data collection was the same for all participants. Once permissions were obtained, all participants completed a demographics questionnaire. All participants then received ten days of training about symptoms of and interventions for ASDs.
Results: Results identified significant positive changes in participants’ awareness, knowledge, and understanding of evidence-based ASDs treatment and intervention..
We believe that this study has important implications for the education of helping professionals about ASDs and culturally-competent, evidence-based interventions in Ethiopia. Because the program appears to be effective, we hope that with continuous professional development training over time, educators and healthcare professionals will be able to work more effectively in addressing the needs of children with ASDs in Ethiopia.