Bringing early hope for children with delayed development

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

A beneficiary of Operation Santa Claus this year hopes to bring cheer to children with developmental delays by providing one-stop assessment and treatment at an early stage.

St James' Settlement intends to provide the services for free for 35 problematic children in low-income families covered by the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance or having a monthly income of less than HK$11,500.

For another 20 problematic children in families with monthly incomes of below HK$23,000, half of the assessment and treatment costs will be subsidised by the project.

In Hong Kong, children with developmental delays have to wait one to two years for proper treatment at public hospitals - by which time some of them would have missed the window of opportunity for making improvements.

There are now about 6,600 children with autistic features and 90,000 students with various learning difficulties such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and speech and language problems.

The Association for Specific Learning Disabilities estimates that two or three students in every class suffer one or more types of learning difficulties.

However, there are only six government-run assessment centres catering for such children across the city. It takes six months for a child to get an assessment, and another 18 months on average on the waiting list to be treated in public hospitals.

Wendy Leung Tsui-wan, programme manager of St James' Settlement, said a child's developmental stage up to six years was of utmost importance for learning basic skills, and was also the key period for those with developmental delays to get treatment.

'A normal six-year-old child should be able to understand complex orders from parents,' Ms Leung said.

'Yet for those with speech and language difficulties, they can neither voice their needs nor make themselves understood. So they often scream or even beat others as a way to release their distress and anger.

'We've also seen toddlers with motor skill disorder who found it hard to hold a cup of water. But at their age, they should have already been able to walk around.'

Medical research had proved that early intervention would make a difference to such children who could still grasp some basic skills before they went to school, she said.

'Otherwise, without any treatment or training beforehand, it's almost sure that they would either perform poorly in studies or behave abnormally, like beating other students or screaming in class without reason,' she added.

St James' Settlement will get professional therapists to tailor-make treatment in the form of games, IQ tests, aptitude assessments, personality tests and music therapy programmes. The parents will receive counselling and education on how to cope with their children.

Using funds from Operation Santa Claus, the charity will also set up a 600 sq ft multi-sensory training room in the Uncle James' Child Development Centre in Central. Suspension facilities for flying, swinging and bouncing activities will be provided in the room with sufficient safety measures.

Occupational therapists will conduct training in the room to stimulate children who may not know how to hold things or are very afraid of swinging.

Ms Leung said: 'It's not realistic for the government, with limited resources, to put the needs of developmentally delayed children as a priority. But we do, as an early start may give the children a totally different life in future.'

Wish list

Wish St James' Settlement hopes to assist children with developmental delay (such as those with autism, dyslexia, speech and language problems) by providing them and their families with education, support and psychological follow-up.

Funds to raise HK$432,500