Stigma, explanatory models and unmet needs of caregivers of children with developmental disorders in a low-income African country: a cross-sectional facility-based survey.

27 Apr 2016
Tilahun D, Hanlon C, Fekadu A, Tekola B, Baheretibeb Y, Hoekstra RA


Understanding the perspectives of caregivers of children with developmental disorders living in low-income countries is important to inform intervention programmes. The purpose of this study was to examine the stigma experiences, explanatory models, unmet needs, preferred interventions and coping mechanisms of caregivers of children with developmental disorders in Ethiopia.


Participants comprised caregivers (n = 102) of children with developmental disorders attending two child mental health clinics in Addis Ababa. The majority (66.7%; n = 68) had a diagnosis of intellectual disability (ID); 34 children (33.3%) had autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as their primary diagnosis. All caregivers were administered a structured questionnaire via a face-to-face interview, which included an adaptation of the Family Interview Schedule, closed questions about socio-demographic characteristics, explanatory models of illness, type of interventions used or desired and coping strategies, and an open ended question regarding the family's unmet needs.


Most caregivers reported experience of stigma: 43.1% worried about being treated differently, 45.1% felt ashamed about their child's condition and 26.7% made an effort to keep their child's condition secret. Stigma did not depend on the type of developmental disorder, the child's age or gender, or on the age or level of education of the caregiver (all p > 0.05). Reported stigma was significantly higher in caregivers who had sought traditional help (p < 0.01), provided supernatural explanations for their child's condition (p = .02) and in caregivers of Orthodox Christian faith (p = .03). Caregivers gave a mixture of biomedical explanations (e.g. head injury (30.4%) or birth complications (25.5%)) and supernatural explanations (e.g. spirit possession (40.2%) or sinful act (27.5%)) for their child's condition. The biggest reported unmet need was educational provision for their child (74.5%), followed by treatment by a health professional (47.1%), financial support (30.4%) and expert help to support their child's development (27.5%). Most caregivers reported that talking to health professionals (86.3%) and family (85.3%) helped them to cope. Many caregivers also used support from friends (76.5%) and prayer (57.8%) as coping mechanisms.


This study highlights the stigma experienced by families caring for a child with a developmental disorder. Designing interventions appropriate for low-income settings that improve awareness about developmental disorders, decrease stigma, improve access to appropriate education and strengthen caregivers' support are needed.