Hope burns bright for greater autism awareness

Jochebed IsaacsKUALA LUMPUR: A soon-to-be-launched community outreach programme may prove to be more than a catalyst of hope in the treatment of autism in Malaysia.

The Hope Project, a not-for-profit campaign run by the Early Autism Project (EAP), has set big goals in changing how autism is viewed, treated and managed in the country.

Speaking to FMT, EAP Malaysia Director Jochebed Isaacs said the ultimate goal of The Hope Project was to make world-class services for autism accessible to all.

Isaacs said while awareness on autism in Malaysia was growing, it was still low as many still held stigmas towards the neurodevelopment condition and many misconceptions surrounding it were prevalent among the public.

Furthermore, access to world-class autism services was still limited, as it was costly, while policies and national standards in the field of autism were not up to international standards.

Addressing these issues are the goals of The Hope Project.

It aims to raise awareness on accurate diagnosis and treatment of autism and push for the implementation of policies and national standards relating to autism.

It is also pushing for all children with autism to have access to research-proven therapy.

On raising awareness, Isaacs said that EAP has already embarked on running awareness campaigns and workshops in schools, and also through the distribution of educational material on autism.

As far as pushing for changes at the national level, Isaacs said she was optimistic, but acknowledged that it was a long process.

“In the United States, some 40 states provide funding for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment for autism.

“Children with autism in these states will have access to this treatment for three years and research shows that 50% of the children who receive ABA will be able to catch up.”

A lower hanging fruit, Isaacs said would be the introduction of a national standard for diagnosing autism.

This, she said, could be in the form of a checklist for parents, caretakers or day care centres to identify and take note of signs of autism at an early age.

Isaacs said this would not be a diagnosis itself, but rather a way to spot the signs early on so that the child could be brought in for a proper diagnosis.

On pushing for access to treatment for all autistic children, Isaacs said at the present, EAP would do this via free videos on their Early Autism Project Malaysia YouTube channel.

The videos provide parents and caretakers with tips in handling children with autism.

The Hope Project is set to be launched at the EAP 10 Year Gala dinner on Oct 8. For more information on The Hope Project, visit www.autismmalaysia.com.

A private service provider, EAP assists individuals with autism using the ABA method.