ASD is not that uncommon, say specialists


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PETALING JAYA: The numbers are sobering. One in 100 children worldwide are estimated to have autism, said the World Health Organisation, adding that this is just on average, as some studies have found higher numbers.

A report from the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, based on a surveillance programme in 11 American states, estimated that one in 36 children aged eight have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In view of the prevalence, experts advised parents to pay attention to signs of autism in toddlers.

“If you suspect your child may have autism or are concerned about his or her development, be sure to see a professional for a comprehensive evaluation,” said Dr Rahima Dahlan, a medical lecturer and child and adolescent psychiatrist at Hospital Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah, Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Early intervention services, she said, can greatly improve outcomes for these children.

“Although autism can sometimes be diagnosed as early as 18 months of age, most children receive their diagnosis between the ages of two and four.”

“However, it’s important to remember that each child develops at his or her own pace and symptoms may not become apparent until later,” she added.

She said children with ASD will need to see various experts and specialists throughout their lives, depending on their individual needs and severity of symptoms.

This may include, but not limited to, developmental paediatricians, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, special education teachers and behaviour analysts.

Dr Rahima acknowledged that access to therapy and support services for those with ASD can be challenging, especially if they live rural areas or from the low-income groups.

The cost of therapies, assessments and specialised services can be high, especially for those without adequate insurance coverage or government assistance.

And in some areas, there may be a shortage of qualified professionals such as therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists who specialise in ASD.

“This can lead to long waiting lists for services, delaying important early interventions and supports,” she added.

Apart from that, she said cultural beliefs, stigma and a lack of understanding on autism can affect a family’s willingness to seek help and further limit access to services for some individuals.

Some, however, may lack the awareness and information on where to get appropriate services and resources, she said.

“Governments and NGOs are working to address these barriers by increasing the availability of services, raising awareness about autism, and providing financial assistance to families in need,” she said.

However, she said much remains to be done to ensure that all people with autism, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status, have equal access to the support they need.

Tabitha De Silva, who is principal of Sapphire Academy, a centre for special needs children, meanwhile said autistic children need “huge amounts of therapy” before they can even attend school.

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