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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Early Diagnosis Vital In Tapping Potential Of Autistic Children

PARENTS and teachers were urged to take a positive approach in improving the lives of autistic children, as lack of understanding can result in the children feeling isolated, said a senior Ministry of Education official.

Permanent Secretary Datin Paduka Hjh Apsah Hj Abdul Majid said that parents and educators should act as catalysts for change.

"Our positive approach, understanding, acceptance, compassion and good communication links will improve the lives of children with autism so that they too, can be fully participating members of the society."

During the opening of a colloquium on "Early Diagnosis and Early Intervention for Children with Autism" at the Civil Service Institute, she said that families often had to deal with an overwhelming lack of understanding and support at times when they need it most.

"(Parents and teachers) are often asked to control their 'naughty children' who have autism. This lack of understanding and unhelpful attitudes can lead to children with autism feeling isolated, and in some cases, prevent them from developing their confidence."

She said it was difficult to identify whether a child had autism, as it generally did not affect an individual physically.

She explained that children with autism could find it "very hard" to understand the world and communicate with others, and said teachers and parents may even be unaware of the condition.

Early intervention is crucial to ensure that autistic children have the appropriate education in a learning environment that allows them to lead productive lives, Datin Paduka Hjh Apsah said.

Datin Paduka Hjh Apsah encouraged about 250 participants, comprising teachers, parents, non-government organisations and civil servants, to carry out early diagnosis for autistic children as it would allow them to have better progress.

"It is my belief that children with autism have unique skills and deserve a chance to fulfil their potential. It is necessary, therefore, that the provision of early intervention and the range of support services be put in place for children with autism," she said.

The permanent secretary also stressed the need for close cooperation and collaboration between government and community organisations to promote the inclusion of individuals with autism into society.

She cited the Child Development Centre and various non-government organisations who provided early diagnosis and intervention programmes, and said it was this collaborative dynamism that was the forefront of all efforts towards supporting autistic children.

Collaborations would help remove barriers and uphold inclusive education practices to ensure and promote sustainable development in inclusive education. "(This will reflect) the commitment 'it takes a whole village to educate a child'."

In line with current reforms of the National Education for the 21st Century (SPN21) in promoting equality education for all, Datin Paduka Hjh Apsah said that through appropriate learning support and intervention programmes in a supportive environment, children with autism can achieve their best possible learning outcomes and reach their potential.

"This will help them to promote their self-esteem, self-confidence and their active participation in school. In doing so, this will also help to ensure that students become valued, independent and life-long learners," she said.

Currently, there are about 85 autistic children attending schools in the Sultanate.

Special Education Unit (SEU) Deputy Head cum Co-Chairperson of the colloquium Jennie Wong said the two-day colloquium aimed to provide a platform for participants to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of autism and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention for autistic children.

She added that it was also one of SEU's initiatives to equip educators with the knowledge to meet the educational needs of students with autism, so they can attain positive developmental and educational outcomes and become contributing members of society.

Courtesy of The Brunei Times