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Operation Santa Claus

Hong Kong’s Rainbow Project provides therapy for autistic children and ray of hope for needy families

  • Non-profit group offers affordable occupational therapy and speech therapy to children who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 10:34am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 10:34am

CH (not his real name) promptly picks some toy fruits from a set and organises the pieces by colour as his therapist tells the little boy to do so.

In the play area of an occupational therapy room fitted with cushions, sandbags and foam furniture, the five-year-old joyfully moves and zips around – under the direction of the specialist.

Steve Chan Chi-yuen, who guided the child through different exercises, said the experience enabled CH to follow instructions and behave properly.

The five-year-old, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, was recently taken to the Rainbow Project.

The non-profit group in Sai Ying Pun offers affordable occupational therapy and speech therapy to children from low-income families who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

“[CH]’s condition has improved after being taken to us,” Chan said.

The occupational therapist said the boy, who had avoided eye contact with strangers in the past, would interact with people now.

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CH’s mother, who identified herself as “Lam”, said the project had been the best option for the family.

“We can’t afford private services at current market rates,” the single parent said.

“I don’t have a job. I need to care for [CH] and his 11-year-old sister. We rely on government allowances under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance [CSSA] scheme.”

Lam said she was grateful the Rainbow Project had given the needy family a helping hand by offering concessions to them.

The mother said she felt sad the moment she learned of her son’s condition.

“I am still worried about his education, but I now only hope he grows up strong and healthy,” she said.

CH also received speech therapy treatment provided by the project.

Speech therapist Winnie Leung Sze-wing, who has been treating the five-year-old, said the child needed to learn to focus and pronounce words clearly.

He also needed to develop better control of his tongue and jaw muscles, Leung added.

The boy joined a growing number of children being helped by the group.

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There was always a huge demand for autism treatments in Hong Kong, according to Rainbow Project director Keith Lee Seng-hoe.

The project will subsidise a total of 27 children from CSSA and low-income families with funds from Operation Santa Claus, the annual charity drive jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and government broadcaster RTHK.

Lee said the group wanted to help more children living with autism if it had more resources.

The golden years for autistic children to receive training were from 2½ to 4½ years old, he said.

“Early intervention can help them,” Lee added.