Hong Kong study finds 60 per cent of autistic children have trouble picking up on cues

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 11:16pm

About 60 per cent of autistic children lack the ability to interpret people's actions, expressions and speech, a preview of a new survey revealed yesterday.

That is six times higher than the percentage of children without autism, the survey found.

Parents and politicians criticised the government for not giving enough resources to improve the child assessment services, leading to waits as long as nine months for children to finally get assessed and a further 21/2 years for them to secure rehabilitation services before school.The survey was conducted in 2012 and 2013 by the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Communication Disorders and the Department of Health.

It found 60 per cent of the participating children lacked the "theory of mind" ability, which meant they would encounter difficulties in understanding people's beliefs, desires, emotions, perceptions and intentions.

Most people "are born with the theory of mind ability," said Lai King-lok, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Speech Therapists, which revealed the result yesterday. "But many autistic people with normal intelligence often lack this ability … making simple social communications and interactions extremely difficult."

Eddie Lee Hau-kit, public affairs secretary for the association, said the survey was "large-scale" but that the association could not reveal more details related to it. He said the survey, the first of its kind in the city, might be released by the department this year.

Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, whose daughter has learning difficulties, said society did not pay enough attention to autistic children, so the government had been slow to improve services.