Autism spectrum disorders: a review of the literature from Arab countries

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Abstract

Background

In the developing countries and specifically in the Arab world, the field of child psychiatry is relatively new. Autism became a subject of interest in the region only during the late 1990s. Tremendous effort is needed to raise the awareness of policy makers toward the need for implementation of services and research plans aiming to bridge the gap between the needs of and services provided for autism.

Aim

The aims of the study were to: (a) focus on the magnitude of the problem of autism in the Arab world; (b) highlight research conducted in this field; and (c) shed light on services provided for autistic patients and their families in the Arab world with special focus on cultural and economic characteristics of the region and its impact on autism.

Methods

All internationally published English language articles and their reference lists were reviewed using MEDLINE (1992–2012) and studies on autism spectrum disorder conducted in all Arab countries were selected.

Results

Data from studies conducted by different Arab countries on various fields of autism research – genetic, autoimmune, oxidation stress, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, errors of metabolism, mitochondrial dysfunction, clinical studies, imaging, treatment outcome, and available services for autistic patients – were collected and reviewed. Between 1992 and 2012 a total of 75 articles were published from Arab countries, most of which (n=55, 73.3%) were published in the last 4 years. Most of the articles discussed possible etiologies of the disorder (n=42, 56.6%). Autoimmune theory was the most commonly investigated in the Arab region (n=12, 16%). Review articles constituted 16% (n=12) of the published articles. The least addressed topic was treatment outcome (n=4, 5.3%). Most of the research came from Saudi Arabia (n=23, 30.6%) and Egypt (n=16, 21.3%). Lebanon came third (n=11, 14.7%) and had mostly review articles (n=6). Internationally published studies on the prevalence of autism in Arab countries showed inconsistent frequency.

Conclusion

There is growing interest in autistic disorders in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as evidenced by the increase in research in this field in the last few years. Research on autism in Arab countries is still in its infancy and needs organizational efforts to be fruitful. Further research is needed within Arab countries to determine the most effective and efficient means of improving diagnosis and service delivery in the context of the particular country, culture, and governmental structure.

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