Neurodiversity Foundation is proud to be collaborating with the internationally-renowned Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, in establishing clinical and community-based research into ESSENCE problems in the South African context. Currently, a programme of research, including an initial PhD and MA study, are under way. In the context of the myriad of exposures faced by children in South Africa, intervention, policy planning and accessible service provision is dependent on appropriate tools, skills and human resource capacity to identify and screen for all of the neurodevelopmental needs that a child may have.

The collaborative work by the GNC and NDF aims to demonstrate that the identification of neuropsychiatric challenges is a crucial public health, community and clinical concern. Certainly, if early neurodevelopmental needs of young children are not identified and attended to, the longer-term outcomes could be overwhelmingly negative. These studies seeks to correct the lack of prevalence data and respond to the need for appropriate screening tools in South Africa, demonstrate cost effective modalities of screen administration that help redress historical barriers to effective intervention services, and to bolster the concept of “ESSENCE” in a new context of study (and in particular, the severely environmentally-deprived, rural and under-resourced Breede Valley).

The term ESSENCE was coined by Prof Christopher Gillberg in 2011. It is an acronym for “Early Symptomatic Syndromes Eliciting Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examination”. This is not intended as a diagnosis, but rather as a description of the reality that 10-15% of all children present with overlapping problems in many areas in their early years.