Screening centres, holistic approach needed to help special needs children

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Karambir Singh

MIRI: An educationist and social activist here has called for a holistic approach and the setting up of government screening centres to enable early detection of children with developmental delays and other neuro-developmental disorders.

Karambir Singh, the chairman of Miri Hospital Visitors Board and Miri City councillor said many parents would like to see government-run centres to deal with this issue as it is difficult to raise a special child and also at the same time be involved in constant fundraising campaigns to raise funds for the centres managed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism are neuro-developmental disorders distinguished by impairments in communication, behaviour and social functioning,” he told The Borneo Post here.

Rembau MP and former Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently proposed that pre-school teachers be given basic training to identify children with developmental delays but those working with such children disagreed with his view.

Based on a study by the Health Ministry, one in 62,512 children aged 18 to 36 months has been diagnosed with autism, with some cases going undetected.

Karambir said a holistic and pragmatic approach is for the government to invest in early detection centres nationwide, including Sarawak as early intervention benefits the children with special needs.

“It is imperative that training and investment are prioritised towards the first line of health caregivers who can identify these issues as they have early access to the children.

“Pre-school teachers can be trained as well.

“However, with many private pre-schools, there might be legislation required to compel such training,” he said.

Karambir said the immediate focus should be on having proper assessment centres and specialised training given to health caregivers in the clinics for mothers and children nationwide.

He admitted that many places do not have proper government-run centres to train and develop the children and the majority of such specialised centres are currently run by NGOs.

Free Malaysia Today news portal quoted behaviour consultant Sitra Panirsheeluam as saying the government should invest more in child screening and assessment centres, or at least come up with guidelines that could help parents with children diagnosed with developmental delays such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neuro-developmental disorders.

She said signs of developmental delay can be observed in a child from as early as 18 months and promoting awareness among doctors, paediatricians and healthcare professionals is more important than solely depending on the teachers.

“What we need more from the government, specifically from the Health Ministry, is to provide more child screening and assessment centres for the public, or at least guidelines that will help create a society open to accepting children with neuro-developmental disorders,” she was quoted as saying.

Feilina Feisol, the chairman of the National Autism Society of Malaysia agreed that there was an urgent need for screening and assessment facilities or paediatricians.

She stressed that even if pre-school teachers are taught to look for signs of developmental delays, the lack of such centres in some states would make it difficult for parents to obtain early intervention services.