More child screening and assessment centres are needed to make early diagnoses of developmental impairments such as autism, said Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh. Pic by NSTP/ MOHD YUSNI ARIFFIN

KUALA LUMPUR: More child screening and assessment centres are needed to make early diagnoses of developmental impairments such as autism, said Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh.

She said the Health Ministry is being urged to ease access to existing centres and create more such facilities, particularly outside the Klang Valley and in rural areas across the country.

“We hope the ministry could increase the existing capacity for screening and assessment, as the waiting list right now is very long,” she said after flagging off the Danajamin Nasional Bhd (Danajamin) Mighty Run 2018 at the Perdana Botanical Gardens today.

Yeoh said a lack of access to such facilities has caused difficulties for parents seeking early diagnosis of developmental impairments in their children.

“Early intervention is crucial for children with autism, (who need to) receive proper support,” she added.

Yeoh said autism has become a widespread condition, with an estimated 300,000 people in Malaysia on the autism spectrum.

“However, of the total, only 20,000 are registered (with the ministry) and have (been issued) disabled people (OKU) cards,” she said.

The biggest problem, however, is that Malaysians in general have low awareness of autism.

“Some (parents) think that their (autistic) child is simply ‘a bit slow’, which (they think is) something that is normal.

“Therefore, we need more screenings so that we can help autistic children at the early stage,” she said, adding that the signs of autism can manifest themselves in children as young as 18 months old.

Pic by NSTP/ MOHD YUSNI ARIFFIN

On Oct 18, Yeoh told the Dewan Rakyat that the Welfare Department will consider parents’ request to create autism sub-categories on the OKU card.

This, according to Yeoh, would enable them to access more specific services.

Meanwhile, she said the Danajamin Mighty Run could help create greater public awareness on autism.

The event, which is in its third year, has successfully collected RM110,000 for the National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) to assist the organisation in building an inclusive society, where people with autism can reach their full potential.

Danajamin managing director and chief executive officer Mohamed Nazri Omar said it is hoped that the run would contribute towards nurturing a caring community towards children with developmental disorders,

Also present at the run today was Nasom chairman Feilina Feisol.