Don’t worry, early diagnosis and intervention can help autistic children reach their full potential and integrate well into society, says Ms Tee Shan Shan, a psychologist at The Child Development Centre (an affiliation of SBCC Baby & Child Clinic) – Click here to view advertorial

What is autism?
A developmental disorder that begins in early childhood, it afflicts one out of every 150 children and affects about five boys to every one girl. Classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), it is often described interchangeably with the autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), a broad spectrum of developmental disorders affecting young children and adults. Some children may have speech while others may have little or no speech. Less severe cases may be diagnosed with PDD or with Asperger’s Syndrome. These children typically have normal speech but have many “autistic” social and behavioral problems. If left untreated, autistic children will not develop effective social skills and may not learn to talk or behave appropriately.


What are the signs of autism?
They differ from child to child. Not all children who display these early symptoms are autistic, although parents should certainly take it as a warning sign if you spot more than one in each category.


Social: The child doesn’t consistently respond to his name when called. He doesn’t smile at caregivers or use gestures independently, such as waving goodbye without being told to. He prefers to be on his own and doesn’t show interest in other children. He doesn’t enjoy or engage in games such as peekaboo or patty cake.


Communication: The child doesn’t use gestures, such as reaching out to something he wants. He doesn’t use eye contact to get your attention or point to indicate that he wants something. He doesn’t engage in pretend play or sound like he’s having a conversation with you when he babbles. He also doesn’t understand simple one-step instructions.


Behaviour: The child has an intense interest in certain objects and becomes ‘stuck’ on particular toys. He focuses narrowly on objects and activities, such as lining up his toys. He is easily upset by change and must follow routines. He often repeats unusual body movements such as back-arching and hand-flapping.


How does the Child Development Centre help autistic children?
The Child Development Centre has a team of specialists, which include Child Psychologists, Speech Therapists and Occupational Therapists. Parents can consult a psychologist for an initial observation who will conduct an autism assessment, including an Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI). A visit to the child’s school will also be arranged to observe him in a ‘natural’ setting, focusing on peer interaction and to obtain teachers’ feedback. The psychologist may then suggest some early intervention programs such as speech or occupational therapy, recommend appropriate agencies, and aid in the application process. The child is also closely monitored (usually once every four to six months) for any difficulties or progress.


Five-year-old son Joshua (not his real name) was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. “His childcare teachers first noticed that he didn’t want to make friends and would sometimes wander off without informing them,” recalls his mother, Mrs. Tan. Upon his paediatrician’s advice, they observed him for a year and noticed his social skills were not improving.


Psychologist Ms Tee Shan Shan assured Mrs. Tan that as long as he’s able to develop his social skills, he should have no problem adapting to a mainstream primary school. Joshua, who scored 128 for his IQ test (superior intelligence range) will be starting one-to-one sessions with a therapist soon, followed by a social playgroup.


“I’m impressed by The Child Development Centre team’s efficient and professional approach. Within a month of our first visit, they’d completed the assessments and visited Joshua’s school,” praises Mrs. Tan who was also recommended books to help her understand his condition better. “Ms Tee also flagged potential problems and taught me how to prevent them by setting rules. For example, before we visit a shopping mall, I will tell Joshua that he cannot touch anything and must keep his volume down. When he forgets, I’ll remind him, ‘Remember we said that you cannot talk loudly?’ He needs repeated reminders but his behaviour has definitely improved,” says Mrs. Tan.


“I’m relieved that I now know how to help him. I strongly advise parents in the same boat is to start their child on early intervention as soon as possible. This gives him time to pick up necessary skills before he begins formal schooling.”


About The Child Development Centre
The Child Development Centre at Novena Medical Centre focuses on providing assessment and therapeutic interventions for children with developmental and learning difficulties. The centre adopts a multidisciplinary approach by a team of specialists to assess the child and develops the most appropriate treatment plan to help the child overcome his/ her difficulties. The team, consisting paediatricians, child psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech & language therapists and dieticians, is able to deliver comprehensive medical and therapy services at one location.


For enquiries on Autism Assessment, email to:
The Child Development Centre is an approved Early Intervention Programme (EIP) registered under the National Council of Social Service (NCSS). Parents will be able to utilize Baby Bonus funds at Child Development Centre.


Thomson Paediatric Centre (The Child Development Centre)
10 Sinaran Drive, #09-04 Novena Medical Centre