Autism activists: We need more screening, assessment centres

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PETALING JAYA: Former youth and sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s proposal to equip pre-school teachers with basic training to identify children with developmental delays has not gone down well with those working with autistic kids.

Behaviour consultant Sitra Panirsheeluam says signs of developmental delay can be observed in a child from as early as 18 months.

Behaviour consultant Sitra Panirsheeluam said the government should invest more in child screening and assessment centres.

She said the government should at least come up with guidelines that could help parents with children diagnosed with developmental delays such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neuro-developmental disorders.

“Signs of developmental delay can be observed in a child from as early as 18 months.

“Rather than solely depending on the teachers, spreading awareness among doctors, paediatricians and healthcare professionals is more important.

“What we need more from the government, specifically the health ministry, is to provide more child screening and assessment centres for the public, or at least guidelines that will help create a society open to accepting children with neuro-developmental disorders,” she told FMT.

Feilina Feisol, chairman of the National Autism Society of Malaysia, says Kelantan and Terengganu don’t have any diagnostic centres to help parents.

Feilina Feisol, the chairman of the National Autism Society of Malaysia, agreed that there was an urgent need for screening and assessment facilities or paediatricians, especially in states like Kelantan and Terengganu.

“Even if pre-school teachers are taught to observe signs of developmental delay, the lack of such centres in some states would make it difficult for parents to obtain early intervention services.

“The government should also find ways to correct the lack of awareness through advertisements or other forms of public service announcements as many Malaysians are still not aware of such matters,” she said.

Feilina, who is herself a parent to an autistic child, also said those whose children are diagnosed with learning disabilities should accept them for what they are.

Khairy, who is Rembau MP, put forward the suggestion to train pre-school teachers to identify children with developmental delays in Parliament.

Based on a study by the health ministry, one in 62,512 children aged 18 to 36 months has been diagnosed with autism, with some cases going undetected.

ADHD and autism are neuro-developmental disorders distinguished by impairments in communication, behaviour and social functioning.

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