UNDERSTANDING the needs of a child with autism is important for their development, says consultant paediatrician Dr Shan Narayanan.
He said by identifying the kind of support a child needed, one could properly manage and help with their growth.
“It is important to understand them and identify their strengths and weaknesses.
“For a child, early intervention is helpful, and some ways of managing include parent empowerment, teaching in a specialised environment and therapy, ” he explained during a webinar titled “Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Rising Star”.
“For schoolgoing children, they can either enrol in mainstream schools, mainstream schools with support, special education integration schools or special education schools, ” Dr Shan said, emphasising that the support of an educational psychologist would also be needed.
“For a young person or adult with autism, it is important that they gain self-esteem and self-confidence as well as identify their abilities.
“There is vocational training for them as well.
“Parent empowerment is also important. With the right support given to an autistic child, the outcomes can be positive, ” he noted.
The webinar was jointly organised by Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Centre for Learning and Teaching and the Centre of Applied Psychology, in collaboration with Persatuan Pembangunan Pendidikan Kanak-kanak Istimewa (3PKI), in conjunction with World Autism Awareness Day.
Dr Shan said autism was a neurobiological disorder and a life-long developmental disability.
“An autistic child has impaired communication, impaired social interaction and restricted rigid repetitive behaviours.
“Some traits can include speech delay or speaking in one’s own language, not playing with other children and severe temper tantrums, ” he described.
He said autism spectrum disorder could be classified into high-functioning autism, autism, or severe autism, and about 5% were savants, meaning they have special skills in areas like music or art.
“Autism is also four to five times more common in boys, ” he added.
Dr Shan explained that a child’s normal development had four domains, including gross motor; vision and fine motor; hearing, speech and language; and social, emotional and behavioural.
“Among normal children,
their development improves with age and we call that their developmental milestone.
“However, when a child has not achieved a certain skill at the median age, this red flag will be reviewed and if the child still has not achieved that skill at the limit age, then it can be considered a delayed development.”
He gave an example of an autistic child who had improved over the years.
“The child was unable to communicate and shouted as he looked at a water bottle when he wanted to have a drink.
“But over the years, with therapy and parental involvement, he was able to speak.
“Today, this child is enrolled in an accounting course at a private college, although he still has some difficulties understanding social situations and making friends.
“Supportive parents can bring out the abilities of an autistic child, ” he added.