Autism spectrum disorder: Critical treatment period

May 18, 2018 17:30
A child with autism plays with other children. Children who are suspected to be autistic should receive assessment before age 4 or 4.5, according to experts. Photo: Reuters

Research has indicated that the golden treatment period for autism is between age 0 to age 6, because the development of cognitive, coordinative, sensory and social skills in children within that age group is the quickest.

Children who are suspected to be autistic should receive assessment before age 4 or 4.5. Once diagnosed with the disorder, the child should receive professional training which lasts for at least two years before primary one.

Current foreign assessment tools can make a diagnosis for as young as 16-month-old children. With intensive training during the golden period for treatment, autistic patients are more likely to keep up with the development in normal children.

Hong Kong parents should follow the local assessment protocols. Firstly, it is the Maternal & Child Health Centre that files potential cases and refers them to Child Assessment Centre under the Department of Health for further assessment and arrangement of training. There are seven centers in Hong Kong but the service barely meets the great demand.

Statistics show that new cases referred to the Department of Health for intellectual assessment have increased by nearly 20 percent over the five years, yet the percentage of those cases which have their assessment completed within half a year has plunged from 89 percent in 2013 to 55 percent in 2017.

Some cases have been in long waiting lists for over a year and have already passed their chance of receiving early intervention treatment.

Alternatively, there are many non-government organizations that offer paid assessment service at a lower price than private clinics. Since their waiting lists are shorter, parents may participate in non-government support group service while waiting for the notification from Child Assessment Centre.

Parents must take note that only patients referred by the Department of Health or social workers from the Social Welfare Department will be on the waiting list of Subvented Pre-school Rehabilitation Services, including Special Child Care Centres, Kindergarten-cum-Child Care Centre and Early Education and Training Centre service.

If parents notice a worsening in their children's emotions and behavior during the wait, they can give the center a call and see if the waiting period can be shortened. Adjustments can usually be made according to their circumstances.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 7

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Registered social worker for the child and adolescent psychiatric services