The Health | june, 2019
The gap in intervention
The awareness for autism among
Malaysians are quite high, but
the services provided for early
intervention and treatment
leaves a lot to be desired
r Juriza Ismail has been a paediatric
specialist for almost 20 years. Her passion
to help children with their development
have positioned her in the Child Develop-
ment Centre (CDC) at Hospital Canselor
Tuanku Muhriz (HCTM) through most of
Her experience as a specialist, lecturer, and researcher
have put her in a position to explain one of the biggest
problem we have for the intervention and treatment of
autism in Malaysia.
Lacking in services
The CDC at HCTM is the pioneer hospital based child
development centre in the country. The centre provides
a wide array of services for children with special needs.
It boasts impressive set of services which include con-
sultations by developmental paediatricians, clinical
psychologists, counselor, social welfare officer, and also
provide psychosocial support (for the parents as well) and
general health education. It is also the resource centre
for information regarding school with special education,
early intervention centres, and rehabilitation centres.
CDC is one of the entrance screening centre for children
with autism spectrum disorder to enter Genius Kurnia.
The centre also work in a multi-disciplinary team
together with the physiotherapists, occupational
therapists, speech therapists and clinicians from other
disciplines in managing patients.
Dr Juriza says that the waiting list for parents to come
and get consultation at the CDC currently stands at 11
This indicates that the awareness for autism is on the
rise and parents are seeking help for their children at an
early age. General paediatricians and general practitioners
are also becoming aware of the autism and picking up the
signs early, thus early referrals are made.
“The awareness for autism is no the rise now, however
what happens after parents know that their child has
autism is the main concern. The government service pro-
viders can’t quite cope with the demand,” Dr Juriza tells.
“Private centres providing intervention for autism is
generally quite expensive. It costs huge amount of money
and time, which a lot of parents in Malaysia doesn’t have.”
Trouble for the middle to
lower income group
The centres for autism in Malaysia is quite readily avail-
Dr Juriza leads the Child Development
Centre in Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhri.
able, however a lot of them are pricey and appeal
to only a fraction of the population. Both parents
living in the middle and lower income group have
daily jobs, which makes them less capable to spend
time in their child’s intervention as well as paying
for the fees.
“The best approach for early intervention for
autism is when the parents are doing it themselves
at home in between attending therapies. Yet with
a lot of parent now working full-time jobs, this has
become a luxury,” she explains.
Centres for early intervention could also be
expanded further in major hospitals and clinics
across Malaysia so that more parents and children
have better access.
The effect comes from
Although the CDC Dr Juriza helms in HCTM
has a very long waiting list, the parents who are
enrolling their children there are found to be fully
committed for the process.
“I have parents from other states who are will-
ing to wait for the appointment date regardless
the long duration. We do have a triage system in
which children who are less than three years old
or with worrying behaviour would be prioritised
for an early appointment.”
According to Dr Juriza, the main goal for early
intervention is to have the children with autism
be enrolled in the normal stream in school, being
able to socialise enough, and ultimately improve
their overall quality of life.
This is why Dr Juriza stress the importance
of early intervention. According to her, the best
intervention to be done is within the first three
years of the child’s life. That is when the brain is
developing with the brain cells connecting rapidly.
It is therefore easier to instill the children with new
“For parents suspecting their child to have
autism, you need to get him or her to see a doctor
as early as possible for assessment and diagnosis.
Once you know that your child has autism, find
the time and put in the effort to be involved in
his or her intervention therapies. The best impact
of intervention will usually be from the full
involvement of both parents in continuing them
Dr Juriza also looks into the religious part of
the problem. “For Muslims, a child with autism is
considered a child of heaven. Therefore for parents,
taking care and improving the child’s quality of life
will also ensure your path to heaven as well.” – The
Ronald McDonald House’s gift to autism
One of the activity rooms in the CDC, where
children are assessed by a multi-disciplinary team
and does activities for group therapies.
As an NGO operating in Malaysia for over 20
years, Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC)
Malaysia has been well under the radar for most
of us. We might have heard of them when we go to
eat at McDonald’s, where we can usually see the
small donation box near the counter.
RMHC is a fundraising NGO focusing on three
main pillars here in Malaysia. The first, and the
main pillar for the organisation is to provide a
house for families to stay in while one of their
own gets treated at the hospital.
For now, the RMHC is based in Bandar Tun
Razak, as a part of Hospital Canselor Tuanku
Muhriz (HCTM) UKM. For parents who have
their children getting treated at the hospital and
are living far away from it, they are able to be
closer when they stay at RMHC.
Provide for children
Even though RMHC’s main focus is the house,
they have also come up with ways to reach out to
the community. One way is to provide sensory
rooms in numerous healthcare centres for chil-
dren with autism.
“We are always looking to help, and even
though building another house is an on-going
endevour, we try to do as much as we can. This is
why we decided to provide the sensory rooms,”
says Nasri Nordin, General Manager for RMHC
“We have found that in a lot of hospitals
and healthcare centres, there are always some
unused space; a room no one ever use, perhaps.
We thought that if we aren’t able to build another