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LCQ16: Support for autistic children

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (April 13):


     The Chief Executive indicated in the 2010-2011 Policy Address that the Government would enhance the provision of healthcare, education and pre-school services to autistic children, and would also provide their parents and carers with information on autism.  The Financial Secretary also mentioned in the 2011-2012 Budget that dedicated professional teams would be expanded to provide services for an additional 3,000 children with autism or hyperactivity disorder each year. To this end, the Hospital Authority will recruit 48 additional medical personnel.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that a survey report published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed out that one in every 110 children aged eight or above suffered from autism in 2006, and according to this ratio, it is projected that there are at present about 70,000 autistic persons in Hong Kong, whether the authorities have assessed if this projection method is applicable to Hong Kong;

(b) of the details of the enhanced healthcare and education services to be provided by the authorities to autistic children, as well as the welfare services and employment support services provided by the authorities to autistic persons;

(c) of the details of the establishment of the aforesaid medical personnel; and

(d) whether the authorities have any plan to conduct comprehensive assessments and studies on the needs of and services received by autistic persons?



(a) According to a local study in the field of paediatrics on autistic children, about 16 in every 10,000 children aged below 15 in Hong Kong suffered from autism between 1986 and 2005. Given the different designs (e.g. definition of autism) of studies in different places, there are variances in the incidence rates of autism among children reported in worldwide literatures. Data in overseas studies may not be applicable to the projection of the number of autistic children in Hong Kong.

(b) and (c) Children with autistic tendency or symptoms, upon preliminary assessments by the Child Assessment Centre of the Department of Health, are normally referred to the specialist outpatient clinics of the Hospital Authority (HA) for further assessment and treatment. To enhance the support for autistic children, HA plans to expand the professional team comprising healthcare practitioners in various disciplines (including doctors, clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and nurses) in 2011-12 to provide early identification, assessment and treatment services for these children. The scope of assessment covers different areas including social skills, communication and behaviour, etc.  The professional team will provide appropriate treatment and training to autistic children having regard to their individual circumstances. Training will be conducted on an individual or group basis to improve their speech and communication, interpersonal relationships and sociability, problem solving skills, behaviour adjustment and emotional management, so as to help them better communicate and get along with others in daily life.

     Besides, the professional team will provide appropriate support and training to the parents and caregivers in order to enhance their understanding of the condition and treatment needs of these children. The professional team will also maintain close liaison with relevant organisations, such as schools or early training centres, to provide appropriate referral and support services according to the development needs of these children. Apart from assisting autistic children, the professional team will also enhance the support for children suffering from hyperactivity disorder in 2011-12. The initiative is expected to benefit around an additional 3,000 children each year, including about 2,000 children with autism and about 1,000 children with hyperactivity disorder. It is estimated that additional manpower of around 48 doctors, nurses and allied health practitioners working in multi-disciplinary teams will be required to provide the enhanced service for the two types of children. The additional recurrent expenditure involved is estimated at $45 million.

     With regard to education support services, on top of the support measures currently provided to students with special educational needs, including students with autism, the Education Bureau will earmark $38 million for implementing a three-year pilot project on enhancement of support services for students with autism in ordinary primary and secondary schools starting from 2011/12 school year. The project includes (a) structured on-top group training for primary and secondary students with autism; and (b) development and piloting of a school support model at junior primary level for early intervention of students with autism. It is anticipated that around 30 public sector secondary schools and 50 public sector primary schools will participate in part (a) and about 30 primary schools in part (b) of the project. The Education Bureau will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot project to facilitate consideration of the way forward of the project, taking into account the feedback from the stakeholders and the capacity of the professionals and service providers.

     On the welfare front, the Government strives to provide children with disabilities from birth to six years old, including those who suffer from autism, with early intervention through pre-school rehabilitation services. Our aim is to enhance their physical, psychological and social developments, thus improving their opportunities for participating in ordinary schools and daily life activities, and helping their families meet their special needs. The Financial Secretary has proposed in the 2011-2012 Budget an allocation of $36.58 million for providing 610 new places for pre-school services. Coupled with the allocation for recurrent expenditure already earmarked, the Government will provide a total of 926 additional places for pre-school services in 2010-11 and 2011-12. We will continue to increase such places to provide suitable training and support for the needy children and their families. In addition, the Financial Secretary has also proposed in the 2011-2012 Budget an allocation of $2.15 million for providing five additional medical social workers who will work with HA's professional team to enhance the services for autistic children and their parents.

     On employment support services, the three Skills Centres of Vocational Training Council offer a variety of market-driven training courses/programmes for persons with disabilities (including autistic persons) aged 15 or above, who have been assessed as having the ability to work in the open market with a view to enhancing their employment prospects and equipping them for open employment. These training courses/programmes include 660 full-time course training places, 60 one-year evening course training places and 300 tailor-made short course training places for persons with disabilities.

     The Social Welfare Department also provides persons with disabilities, including autistic persons, with a range of day training and vocational rehabilitation services. Upon reaching the age of 15, students with disabilities can apply for these services through school social workers, medical social workers, family caseworkers and staff of rehabilitation service units. These services include those provided by Integrated Vocational Training Centres, Sheltered Workshops, Supported Employment, Integrated Vocational Rehabilitation Services Centres, On the Job Training Programme for Persons with Disabilities and Sunnyway-On the Job Training Programme for Young Persons with Disabilities, and Day Activity Centres.

     The Selective Placement Division of the Labour Department (LD) provides vocational guidance, job matching and referrals, assistance in preparing for job interviews and post-placement follow-up services to persons with disabilities who are fit for open employment, including autistic persons. The LD has also put in place the Work Orientation and Placement Scheme to encourage employers to offer employment to persons with disabilities through provision of financial incentive. A participating employer will receive a wage subsidy of up to $4,000 per month for the employment of one person with disabilities with a maximum subsidy period of six months.

(d) The Working Group on Mental Health Services (the Working Group), which is chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health, assists the Government in reviewing our mental health services on an ongoing basis. We will keep in view, through the Working Group and in conjunction with other departments, the needs of child and adolescent mental health services, and make suggestions for the formulation of various initiatives for continuous service enhancement. HA will also make assessments on the effectiveness of the initiatives and the service needs.

Ends/Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:43


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