The National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) refers to a news portal that highlighted the lack of early intervention services to cater to the increasing number of children with autism in Malaysia.
We, at NECIC, agree that the public and private sectors need to boost efforts to ensure that no child is left behind.
Although setting up centres to cater to the needs of children with autism and other disabilities is an option, it is not the only feasible solution.
Not only is it not cost-effective, it also takes a long time. We would like to highlight constructive solutions that can be implemented as our children cannot wait.
FIRST, integrate early intervention services into childcare centres and preschools. We can only build so many autism-friendly early intervention centres, and the waiting list will be long.
Evidence has shown that early intervention that is conducted in the child’s natural setting is the most efficient.
A child’s natural setting in early childhood years means his or her home environment, childcare centre and preschool.
While we do need more early intervention centres delivering quality services that complement the work of childhood care providers, we should not aim to construct more of them, which can be expensive.
Instead, the focus must be on making early childhood care inclusive by employing therapists to provide services in these settings, as well as making environmental adaptations to buildings to accommodate children’s sensory and physical needs.
This is because childcare centres are places where children spend the most time at, apart from their homes.
Many parents enrol their children with disabilities in mainstream preschools because the learning environment is conducive for their development and inclusive education benefits all children.
SECOND, emphasise training for early childhood educators. Malaysia has a deficit of well-trained personnel to provide quality early intervention services to children with disabilities.
Ideally, these should be transdisciplinary therapists to support all children with special needs.
The skills and knowledge in inclusive early childhood education should be imparted to the early childhood caregivers at their settings.
Thus, resources should be channelled to train personnel instead of building centres.
THIRD, empower parents to teach. Currently, intervention plans are mostly developed by early childhood intervention therapists.
International research has shown the effectiveness of early intervention programmes when there is committed parental involvement.
Parents can be great teachers for children with disabilities because they have a keen observation of what their children need.
They are resourceful and can draw up intervention plans that best meet their children’s needs.
It is time that early intervention therapists shared the teaching responsibility with parents and allow them to take the lead in making decisions concerning their children’s needs.
With limited funding and human resources — factors that plague early childhood intervention services — we need to rethink how the nation is addressing this pressing need.
Datuk Dr Amar-Singh
Adviser, National Early Childhood Intervention Council
Dr Wong Woan Yiing
President, National Early Childhood Intervention Council; consultant paediatrician
Prof Dr Toh Teck Hock
Vice-president, National Early Childhood Intervention Council; consultant paediatrician
Ng Lai Thin
Project officer, National Early Childhood Intervention Council