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Group intervention session at the Permata Kurnia lab classroom.Pix by Nurul Syazana Rose Razman

WHEN children throw tantrums, refuse to share or cooperate with others, seem oblivious to their surroundings, are unable to sit still and focus, and do not give appropriate responses, many are quick to judge their actions as misbehaviour.

But these actions - or inaction, depending on the situation - could be symptoms of a more serious problem: autism.

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialise, communicate and imagine. However, it is not a single disorder but rather a spectrum which varies from person to person. Autistic children display different symptoms, depending on where they are on the spectrum - from mild to severe. They may have speech impairments, problems interacting with others, have limited play skills and interests, and are unable to focus and are hyperactive.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) today is recognised as the fastest growing developmental disorder and the number of people diagnosed is increasing. It is estimated that the prevalence rate of autism in Europe and the United States is one per cent of the population.

In Malaysia, a study by the Health Ministry in 2004 found the autism prevalence rate was one case in every 600 children aged 15 and below, which meant that some 13,333 children experienced autism at the time. The current rate is estimated to be higher.

Some children with ASD have difficulties in learning. These children face the likelihood of staying with their families even when they are adults and are dependent and unproductive throughout their life.

It is imperative to provide early intervention measures to ensure a brighter future for children with autism. There is also a need to create awareness among parents, guardians and caregivers on how to help them.

Permata Kurnia, a programme for autistic children, hopes to remedy the situation for children with ASD across the country. A key component of the project is the establishment of the Permata Kurnia Centre which will organise awareness programmes on ASD and provide early intervention to help children with ASD prepare for mainstream primary school education and achieve their fullest potential.

LEARNING CURVE has the story in New Sunday Times on July 5.

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