Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How Early Intervention Can Help Autism

I will be sharing three disabilities that are increasingly prevalent: cerebral palsy, autism disorders and Down syndrome from my experience as a volunteer at PKIK (read more).

Autism is a common disability at PKIK, something like 7 out of 10 students have autism disorders (the other 2 for Down Syndrome & 1 for CP). It's a broad term, meaning the child can be a little autistic or very autistic. The disability can be devastating that may require institutional care, and on another spectrum,  you've the Asperger syndrome, which is often of average or above average intelligence. 

Loges is 16yo, he joined the Day Training Programme in mid 2011. He was accompanied by his mother to attend the programme for more than a year. Finally, in March this year, he didn't need a chaperon anymore. Like many other autistic kids there, he looks like a typical child. If these kids remain still, it's kinda hard to identify those who have the autism disorders. 

Every Tuesday, we go for a morning walk around the neighbourhood with the children at the Day Training Programme. It's good for the children cos they need the exercise and fresh air. They also learn to ensure safety of themselves and other road users.

DS is a 22yo young adult but still remains at the Day Training Programme. He has attended the programme for more than 7 years, and is very familiar with the routine at the centre. He understands what we're saying and responds very fast. But, he cannot communicate with people and is always in a world of his own. 

DS did not receive any professional support when he's young. Maybe it's a lack of awareness or inadequate support structures. Maybe it's a social stigma especially in the Asian community, many would translate autism disorder into something like 'retarded' or 'crazy' and would rather keep the child at home. 

Like DS, the other kids have a similar problem. They did not receive much early intervention programme when they're young. Most of them could not make sense of the world around them. 

Music session is one of their favourites. The kids get livelier and excited - they move around and dance and make sounds during the session. 

Some parents ask why their disabled child is not learning much at the centre? We wonder if they still have expectations that their kids will learn academically like other school-going kids. Many still cannot come to terms with the lifelong condition of autism. So, what do they learn at the centre? It's not academic, but social interaction with people and self-care skills that will prepare them to live more independently when their parents are no longer able to take care of them. 

'Early Intervention' can significantly improve the outcome for autistic children, and their families. The main thing is to promote early screenings of children for the disorders. I took this advice from a parent of an autistic child:- "Seek treatment as soon as you suspect something's wrong. Don't wait and see if your child will catch up later or outgrow the problem. Don't even wait for an official diagnosis. The earlier children with autism disorders get help, the greater their chance of development and reduction of the autism symptoms."

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