Autism Awareness In Malaysia

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that cannot be cured through medication. It is a lifelong and pervasive disorder which means that individuals diagnosed with the disorder have needs that are extensive. These needs include therapeutic intervention, special education, respite care and supported employment (Mann, 2013). The chronicity of ASD or autism thus not only brings an impact on the individuals diagnosed but the entire family unit (Macks & Reeve, 2007; Reichman et al., 2008, as cited in Cridland, Jones, Magee & Caputi, 2014). Because it is a disorder that not only affects one individual but families which in turn has an effect on society in general, it is vital for the public, lay and professionals included, to be informed on the disorder. Thus, educating the public about autism has been the focus of large-scale initiatives over the past few years. Big guns in autism such as Autism Speaks in the United States of America have launched initiatives such as the Global Autism Public Health Initiative to increase awareness and access to autism services worldwide.

Regardless of such efforts, many people are still misinformed about the disorder and have many misconceptions about what autism really is and its effects. A study conducted by Ting et al. (2014) comparing the prevalence, diagnosis and treatment of autism between Malaysia and Singapore revealed that the awareness on autism in Malaysia is much lower as compared to Singapore despite being so close geographically. In Malaysia, there is no official registry for the number of individuals diagnosed with autism (See, 2012). The only statistics which shed some light into the occurrence of autism in Malaysia is a local survey conducted in 2008 which revealed that autism affects one in 625 children (Azizan, 2008).

From our experience at EAP, we receive many enquiries about autism every day. We find that many parents are confused about what autism really is, how their child will be diagnosed accurately and which treatment is the recommended treatment (Applied Behavioural Analysis – ABA) amidst a sea of eclectic options.

So what can we as Malaysians do to bring about change in terms of increasing our awareness of these individuals with autism so that they can have the best fighting chance to learn, to catch up and to live a meaningful life?

Educate.

Find out more about autism! Know what are the symptoms. Learn about how autism is diagnosed accurately. Learn about research-based or evidence-based treatment. Find out from stories of individuals and families on how autism affects them but also how they cope and overcome autism. There are so many free resources especially on the World Wide Web for you to equip yourself with the right information you need to know about autism. For a list of recommended websites, you can refer to our Resources tab on our website.

Accept. 

While individuals may struggle with connecting with others and may have unique ways of communicating which sometimes include tantrums, we should not isolate them from our community. It’s about time we be inclusive of individuals with autism at all levels be in in our community, at our school, in social settings and at work. It is not a favor we are doing for them but it is our duty as citizens to accept them and treat them as part of our society.

Advocate.

Even if autism does not affect you personally, based on the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimated statistic of 1:68 children are affected by autism, this has to become a shared responsibility of society and we all should play a part to advocate for the rights of families affected by autism. We should advocate for early and accurate diagnosis of autism as well as families being able to access the recommended treatment which is Applied Behavioural Analysis. 

Participate.

We can start with participating in awareness campaigns such as the upcoming World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd. Internationally, there is a campaign to “light it up blue” and you can join us by wearing something blue in honour of these special individuals. World Autism Awareness Month happens yearly in the month of April. April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day where we “light it up blue” for our lovely friends living with ASD. Join us by wearing something blue in honor of these special individuals. Spread the message around by utilizing social media so your voice can reach a bigger audience. Also, watch out for us from EAP as we have something very special lined up specifically for the month of April and we would love for you to be a part of it. 

Although Malaysia may not yet be on par in the field of autism with other developed nations such as the United States of America in terms of research, awareness, advocacy and especially quality treatment of autism, all is not lost. We as a nation can unite, we can speak up and we can make a difference, one person at a time, one child at a time, one family at a time. #welcometohope #lovesomeonewithautism

P.S. If you would like to contribute and participate in our upcoming Autism Awareness and Acceptance Campaign, do contact us at admin@autismmalaysia.com for more details.

Reference:
  1. Azizan, H. (2008, April 27). The burden of autism. The Star Online. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com.my/Story.aspx?file=%2F2008%2F4%2F27%2Ffocus%2F21080181&sec=focus.
  2. Cridland, E. K., Jones, S. C., Magee, C. A., & Caputi, P. (2014). Family-Focused Autism Spectrum Disorder Research: A Review of the Utility of Family Systems Approaches. Autism: The International Journal Of Research And Practice, 18(3), 213-222.
  3. Data and Statistics. (2015, August 12). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.
  4. See, C. M. (2012). The Use of Music and Movement Therapy to Modify Behaviour of Children with Autism. Pertanika Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 20(4), 1103-1116.
  5. ‍Ting, T. X.N., Low, H.M., Kok, N.H.C., Chee, A.K.C. & Lee, L.W. (2014). Prevalence, diagnosis, treatment and research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Singapore and Malaysia. International Journal Of Special Education, 29(3), 82-92.