IF YOUR child does not speak by the age of two, there is a large possibility he or she is in the autism spectrum.
Some of these early signs such as the inability to communicate or respond with facial expressions, difficulty in sustaining attention or maintaining eye contact, are of paramount importance in shaping a child’s future.
There is no shame in looking for help, in fact, parents are often reminded that they should immediately get a diagnosis to confirm the child’s condition.
A child playing at one of the Nasom early intervention centres in Taman TitiWangsa, Kuala Lumpur.
National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) chairman Feilina Muhammad Feisol said autism should no longer be considered a rare disease, instead it should be recognised as a developmental disability that needed urgent support.
“According to recent statistics, there are 300,000 people on the autism spectrum in Malaysia.
“What we strive to do is to make parents aware that they should not be ashamed or keep their children at home and away from society,” she said.
Acceptance on multiple levels
Having a son who is in the spectrum of autism, Feilina said an integral part of supporting such a child was to acknowledge that it took a village to do so.
She said the first level was for both parents to be on board from the point of the child’s diagnosis to all following steps in getting the care he or she needed.
“In some cases one parent will not be able to accept the child, perhaps due to ego issues or pride.
A Nasom teacher helping the children with their homework after school at Nasoms early intervention centre in Taman Tasik Tititwangsa, Kuala Lumpur. — Photos: SAM THAM and SHAARI CHE MAT/The Star
“The fault is not entirely on the parents because upon receiving a diagnosis of their child, there is no counselling support for parents as caregivers.
“At family level, if the child has siblings, it is important to teach them how to care for their special sibling and involve them in the activities that your special child does,” she said.
Feilina said in incorporating elements that were less alarming on a sensory level, public spaces could be conducive for people with autism.
“Shopping centres with softer lighting, pastel colours, calmer background music and quiet rooms definitely help both child and parent,” she said.
She added that having curtains and greenery helped to absorb the noise and reduce echoes that were a result of having too many glass panels.
“On the community level, often times when we see a child throwing a tantrum or meltdown, we immediately blame it on bad parenting.
ABC therapist Salina Alias teaching her pupil on a one-to-one basis at the centre.
“We need to be less judgemental and learn to help the parent, so that the parent can calm the child and help them exit the space quickly,” said Feilina.
Community grouses are not unfamiliar to Autism Behavioural Centre (ABC) founder Charlene Samuel, who suffered a huge blow with her first therapy centre being shut down.
In 2015, Samuel’s centre, in an upscale neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur, was booted out by residents who feared that the noise created by the children would disrupt the neighbourhood.
The issue went viral on social media as netizens expressed their sympathy and outrage over the treatment received by Samuel and the children who attended her centre, such as being barred entry into the neighbourhood.
Fortunately, with immense goodwill, Samuel was able to start the ABC in Bangsar, in December last year.
Championing the Applied Behavioural Analysis therapy, Samuel chose to cater to every child’s needs on a one to one basis.
“ABC is now the first intervention centre in Malaysia, with 45 rooms and 19 therapists.
“Each child is our client and they get their own room and therapist who customises their learning according to the child’s capacity.
“This is more effective because say, if a meltdown takes place in one room, it will not affect other children as it usually will in a group session,” she said.
She added that although centres like ABC served the early intervention needs, support from schools and organisations was still vital to teach children skills to help them reintegrate into the community.
“Every child receiving therapy will be given records of their progress to help them get into schools.
“Unfortunately, we have received feedback that some schools have used these records to deny them entry, on the grounds that the school does not have the facilities to accommodate the child.
“I personally train the therapists here and also parents who wish to homeschool their children, this enables them to become shadow teachers for their child to help them assimilate into
kindergartens and schools.
A child playing at the ball pit, which is one of the playschool games at ABC.
“However, this method is not always accepted by education institutions and sometimes leads to the child not being able to go to school,” said Samuel.