Government urged to regulate autism therapy centres

Sitra-PanirsheeluamPETALING JAYA: The government should regulate autism therapy centres as more such facilities open up around the country.

The call was made by an autism therapist who said that as some of these centres are quite expensive, it becomes more relevant for the government to ensure that families are getting the appropriate and best care for their autistic child.

Sitra Panirsheeluam, who is the director of Little Triangles Services, told FMT that more centres have been set up to cater to parents seeking early intervention services for their autistic children.

However, Sitra said there was no governing body to look into what all these autism therapy centres were doing nor were there any proper guidelines on how they should operate and the professional qualifications required of their staff.

She said autism therapies or autism-related therapies weren’t cheap and that many parents would have to spend a lot every month on these therapies.

According to a report in Imoney.com on the costs of raising an autistic child, autism therapies, such as the Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) therapy, can cost RM1,050 per month for six-hour sessions, five days a week.

Speech and occupational therapy could also cost RM1,020 per month.

This doesn’t include some RM500 for extra-curricular activities, such as swimming and music, which are considered by many as being beneficial for autistic children.

Sitra said the government should introduce regulations to ensure all autism centres operated according to a certain standard, including requiring them to have a proper syllabus, the right qualifications, methods to track progress, data collection and documented learning strategies.

“If we don’t have all this, how can parents know their child’s progress?

“For example, a child’s progress should be assessed by a multi-disciplinary team which includes a paediatrician, clinical psychologist, para-professionals, teachers and parents.

“So all these are important elements which should be there to guide the provision of autism therapies and those providing autism services, including professional and para-professionals who work with the autistic children through one-to-one engagements.”

Sitra said as autism therapy centres mostly dealt with children, it would also be good to have all para-professionals and those involved with the child screened to make sure the children were safe at all times.

“A lot of people have good intentions when they try to get involved in providing autism therapy or work as para-professionals.

“But if the therapies or those working with the children aren’t doing it right, it can affect the child’s development.”

Sitra said the government should develop evidence-based regulations and guidelines, especially in early intervention therapies, to better standardise the quality of services provided.

She added early intervention therapies should be made a prerequisite for entry into public or private schools.

“Through early intervention, we can help children understand and hone basic skills like communication, social interaction, reading, writing, cognitive abilities, daily living skills and managing behaviours.

“This is why early intervention should be regulated to ensure the autistic children are actually exposed to and honed in these skills. Otherwise, they may have a tough time in school.”

According to a 2014 Bernama report, it is estimated that one out of every 600 children in Malaysia is born with autism.