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2008.03.05

* Addressing the needs of autistic children in Malaysia
* 03 min 41 secs
* 04 Sep 2007


Engrossed with an electrical cord, three-year-old Mohamad turns away from the outside world.

He’s been diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder that affects development of social and communication skills.

Mohamad’s mother, Noor, says she first noticed something was wrong when her son only started walking at 20 months old. He would walk back and forth on his toes, staying in the same spot. He couldn’t speak, and seemed unable to understand what his mother would say to him.

Once, when Noor was taking a course to become a midwife, she happened across an autistic child. Seeing the similarities with her own son, she convinced her husband they should take Mohamad to a clinic, where her suspicions were confirmed.

SOUNDBITE (Malay); “NOOR”, “Mohamad’s” mother: “When the doctor said that my son was autistic, I felt sad. I asked, what is going to become of my son? I was so worried. Worried that when he grows up, will children like him be given any attention by anyone? Can he become like a normal child, go to school and do other things? There were many thoughts. I was confused.”

Autism is a little understood disability in Malaysia, one that often carries a social stigma. Mindful of this misconception, Mohamad’s family has asked not to be identified by their real names.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Health reports that autism cases are on the rise. Unfortunately most are not detected until children are already in school. While there is no cure for autism, early treatment during toddler and preschool years can reduce its effects and improve a child’s development.

UNICEF and the Ministry of Health are working to help clinics and hospitals detect autism at an earlier age. A pilot program is training medical professionals on identifying and following up with children suspected of having autism.

And a new screening tool is offering parents and doctors a quick way to assess a child’s mental health. It involves a checklist of 23 questions that measure signs of autism. Children whose scores show a higher likelihood of autism are referred to specialists for further testing.

SOUNDBITE (Malay) Siti Norhamidah, Nurse, Masai Clinic: “We target children between 18 and 36 months old, because that’s the optimum time for intervention to take place. We provide training and rehabilitation not only at the clinic, also for the parents so that rehabilitation can continue at home and the child can develop as normally as possible.”

Armed with a diagnosis, Noor has begun therapy with her son to help draw him out of his shell. She says after only a few s

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