One autism case filed every week

National 5 minutes, 2 seconds


THE Child Development Centre records one new case of autism among children aged two and above every week, said its community paediatrician.

Dr Hj Saquib Jalees said the centre had diagnosed 340 individuals with autism in 2012, but the number increased by 105 within two years.

One in every 1,000 individuals are autistic based on the sultanate’s population, he told The Brunei Times.

“This is the current prevalence and this is alarming. These do not even include other disabilities referred to CDC,” he said.

Up until April 2014, the centre has 445 registered autistic patients. Out of that number, 353 are males.

Dr Hj Saquib said there are over 4,000 cases of children with special needs nationwide, with more than 3,000 active cases.

“This means they are still coming for follow-ups, assessments and therapy. The patients are more of males, whether it is autism or learning disabilities,” he said.

What is autism?

According to Dr Hj Saquib, autism is the impairment of social and communication skills with inflexible behaviour.

He said there is no test for autism. “It all lies on clinical judgement and assessment from the CDC doctors and therapists. This is governed by how much experience and education they have in the field”.

Autism is a broad spectrum disorder, and in untrained eyes, many will see it as normal, he explained.

Dr Hj Saquib said even though no one is able to pinpoint what causes autism (nature or nurture), one thing they know is that some individuals are born with certain genetic make-up, which is triggered by the environment.

This means it could be through genes and the environment interaction, he said.

“However, no one has the answer yet. One thing for sure is that if it is genetic, the child’s environment is what will cause him to act out. If the affected gene is not there, whatever environment the child has around him will still encourage him to talk and socialise,” he added.

Watch out for the red flags

Dr Hj Saquib said in nations like the US, autism awareness in some states are good, and primary healthcare doctors do a screening test in children if they notice any red flags before two years of age.

He said there are red flags for parents to look out for when their child is around 18 months old. The red flags include:

•If the child is not babbling at eight or nine months;

•If the child does not respond, has not much eye contact and is very aloof by the time he turns one;

• Speech delay (which is the main reason they receive referrals)

The community paediatrician said children with autism do not play with store-bought toys. They generally play with objects, whether it is a pencil, spoon or beads, he said.

If they play with toys or objects, they will place them and arrange them in lines, he added.

“Their behaviour is not flexible and will throw tantrums when disturbed. So if parents notice their child is sitting in one corner and is not bothered about disturbing people around him, then something is not right,” he said, adding a child should always be interactive and not be in their own world.

Dr Hj Saquib said anyone can refer a child to the CDC. The best thing is for parents visit their general practitioner and get a referral if they noticed any of the red flags.

Late intervention

The community paediatrician said late intervention will not be effective. “The outcome will be limited when you start therapy late. The earlier, the better and that depends on CDC and parents.

“It all depends on parents’ awareness on autism to determine how early they can detect it in their child,” Dr Hj Saquib added.

He said when parents are in denial and later realise their child is autistic and brings them for intervention, it may be a little too late.

“Before the child goes to school at the age of five, you need to sort out his needs such as being toilet-trained, social interaction and speech,” he said.

Dr Hj Saquib said some parents are not comfortable labelling their child, while some want to categorise their child to receive benefits.

“If the child is registered and labelled autistic, then every year, he or she will be able to receive $1,000 as kurnia from His Majesty. In addition, after the age of 15, he or she can receive $250 as allowance from the social welfare disability fund for the rest of his or her life,” he said.

Message to parents

Dr Hj Saquib said parents should look out for signs and symptoms of autism, and also always make time for their children.

“Do not allow them to play with gadgets all the time. The gadgets do not help the children learn much. If you give them proper toys, they will feel it, and can acquire skills because it is three-dimensional.

“For example, if they hold an apple, they will know what it is because they can see, touch, smell and taste it. The same apple shown in an iPad will not demonstrate the same results. The child may know it is an apple only from its colour and shape,” he said.

He urged parents to interact with their autistic child whenever they are at home.

“Communicate with them nicely. When you involve them, it breaks their aloofness,” he said.

Dr Hj Saquib said if parents suspect their child has problems in speech or social interaction, they should seek help and also improve their child’s social environment.

Refer your child to the CDC

Dr Hj Saquib said it is best to refer a child with autism symptoms to the centre for assessment and diagnosis.

He said most of their autism referrals are aged two years and above, but they generally limit treating them at the age of 15 or 16.

“Currently, we are working on manpower and resources to support the increasing figures. We have the team to provide the assessment and diagnosis, but we are working on resources to increase post-diagnosis therapy and intervention,” he added.

The Brunei Times