LCQ5: Support Services for autistic children

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 29):

Question :

     In the 2010-2011 Policy Address, the authorities proposed to support the development of autistic children through healthcare, education, pre-school services and social services. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that quite a number of organisations which provide services to persons with intellectual disabilities ("PIDs") have reflected that 20% to 60% of PIDs suffer from autism, of the respective current numbers of autistic persons and PIDs with autism in Hong Kong; whether the authorities at present offer additional support to organisations which provide services to PIDs with autism; if they do, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) of the direct or ancillary services and support under the various areas of healthcare, primary education, secondary education, pre-school services and social welfare, etc offered at present by the authorities to autistic persons at different stages of their developmental process; the details of implementation of the services proposed in the aforesaid Policy Address to date; and

(c) of the employment support or vocational training offered at present by the authorities to autistic persons after their graduation from secondary schools, and how the authorities assist them in pursuing tertiary education?



     My reply to the Hon Cheung Kwok-che's question is as follows:

(a) Based on the findings of the Survey on Persons with Disabilities and Chronic Diseases conducted by the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) during 2006 and 2007, the estimated number of autistic persons was 3 800. Regarding the statistics on persons with intellectual disability, since intellectual disability is a relatively sensitive topic to some respondents, information collected from them may be subject to larger error. Owing to such limitation, the survey can only provide a crude statistical assessment on the number of persons with intellectual disability. In this regard, C&SD does not have statistics on the number of persons with both autism and intellectual disability.

     According to information collected by the Department of Health (DH), among the pre-school children assessed by the Child Assessment Service in 2010, 1 225 of them were diagnosed with autism or autistic tendency, of whom 810 were also diagnosed with developmental delay (Note).

     According to the records of the Education Bureau (EDB), there are around 3 370 students with autism studying in public sector ordinary primary and secondary schools in the 2011-12 school year. Besides, around 2 140 students with both intellectual disability and autism are enrolled in special schools.

     Special schools have smaller class sizes of 8 to 15 students and better teacher-to-students ratio. Teachers devise individual education plans for students in accordance with their needs, and provide appropriate curriculum and intervention in consideration of their interests and abilities. Besides, EDB also provides additional teachers for special schools in accordance with the number of intakes with both intellectual disability and autism, thereby enabling the schools to provide additional support for the students. Such support includes individual intervention, small group intervention, in-class support and follow up intervention, etc so as to enhance the students' learning, communication, social and independent living abilities and skills.

     On the welfare front, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) 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, with an aim to enhance their physical, psychological and social developments, thus improving their opportunities for participating in ordinary schools and daily life activities. Similar to other children receiving pre-school services, a substantial number of children with autism are suffering from multiple disabilities (eg developmental delay, speech impairment, etc). To meet the varied developmental needs of children with disabilities, SWD has adopted, since 2002, an integrated service mode for the Early Education and Training Centre and Special Child Care Centre to facilitate the service units to make optimum use of resources (including manpower and accommodation) in a flexible manner, as well as to provide comprehensive and suitable support services, including physiotherapy, speech therapy, clinical psychology and occupational therapy services, having regard to the varying needs of children with different disabilities.

(b) & (c) To ensure that autistic persons can obtain suitable support and training at different stages of their developmental process, various government bureaux/departments provide them with a broad spectrum of services in healthcare, pre-school rehabilitation, education, community support, vocational training and employment support services, etc. These services enable them to develop their potentials and integrate into society, and relieve the pressure of their carers. To further strengthen the relevant support, the Chief Executive announced related new measures in his 2010-11 Policy Address. Details of these services and measures are as follows:

(i) Healthcare services

     The Child Assessment Centre (CAS) of the DH provides children with autistic tendency or symptoms with integrated assessment services, and arranges rehabilitation services for them as necessary. CAS also organises various activities to enhance parents' understanding of autism. After preliminary assessments at CAS, children with autistic tendency or symptoms will be referred to the specialist outpatient clinics of the Hospital Authority (HA) for further assessment and treatment. HA has a professional team comprising healthcare practitioners in various disciplines to provide autistic children with early identification, assessment and treatment services. In 2011-12, the service provided by the professional team has been enhanced with an addition of 48 doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. Besides, SWD has also provided five additional medical social workers under the welfare sector to dovetail with the service of the professional team.

(ii) Pre-school rehabilitation services

     The Government has along been steadily increasing the provision of pre-school rehabilitation places. Over the past five years, the Government has allocated resources to provide about 1 400 additional places, representing an increase of nearly 30%. We estimate that about 607 additional places will come on stream in 2012-13. Furthermore, the Community Care Fund provides training subsidy for children from low-income families who are on the waiting list for pre-school rehabilitation services.  SWD also provides training subsidy for serving special child care workers to attend recognised courses so as to enhance their professional knowledge and skills.

(iii) Education

     To support children with special educational needs studying in ordinary schools (including students with autism), EDB provides schools with additional resources, professional support and teacher training. Additional resources include Learning Support Grant, Enhanced Speech Therapy Grant, additional teachers under the Intensive Remedial Teaching Programme for Primary Schools and additional teachers to cater for low academic achievers, etc. As regards professional support, educational professionals of EDB pay regular visits to schools to provide advice on schools' policy of support, measures, teaching strategies, resources deployment, home-school co-operation, etc. EDB also provides schools and students with educational psychology service as well as speech therapy service. Besides, EDB has collaborated with tertiary institutions to develop various assessment tools and diverse teaching resource packages in relation to special education for use by teachers and parents. In respect of teacher training, EDB provides systematic training courses under the Teacher Professional Development Framework on Integrated Education, in order to enhance teachers' professional capacity in catering for students with special educational needs.

     EDB has also launched a pilot project on enhancement of support services for students with autism in ordinary schools starting from the 2011-12 school year. The project includes structured on-top group training for primary and secondary students with autism; and development and piloting of a school support model at junior primary level for early intervention of students with autism. EDB will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot project to facilitate consideration of the way forward of the project.

     With regard to post-secondary education, student admission and formulation of entry requirements are matters falling within the autonomy of the institutions.  Same as other students, students with autism pursuing ordinary curriculum enjoy equal opportunities in applying for further education. Apart from higher education funded by the University Grants Committee, the Vocational Training Council (VTC) also offers diversified vocational education and training programmes for school leavers with different levels of education. Institutions will offer special arrangement and support services according to the circumstances of individual students with special needs and the subjects that they have enrolled.

(iv) Community support services

     SWD's District Support Centres for Persons with Disabilities assist autistic persons in need in integrating into the community through provision of training and support by clinical psychologists and occupational therapists.  Under the community-based support projects, special support is provided to parents of persons with autism and persons with intellectual disability with challenging behaviour so as to relieve their burden. In addition, Parents/Relatives Resource Centre organises social and recreational activities for autistic persons and their carers to facilitate mutual sharing and support.

(v) Vocational rehabilitation service and employment support

     The Government, through the Shine Skills Centres of the VTC, the vocational rehabilitation services of SWD and the employment support services of the Labour Department (LD), seeks to equip autistic persons with the work and communication skills required for jobs in the open market.

     In addition to the provision of vocational training programmes, Shine Skills Centres and related rehabilitation organisations also provide autistic students with personal counselling, independent living skills training and occupational therapy services; and assist students who have completed vocational training in job searching.

     The Selective Placement Division (SPD) of LD provides free and personalised employment services to job seekers with disabilities for open employment. SPD also administers the Work Orientation and Placement Scheme which encourages employers to offer employment to persons with disabilities through provision of financial incentive. A participating employer will receive a wage subsidy up to $4,000 per month for the employment of a person with disabilities with a maximum subsidy period of six months.

Note: Developmental delay generally refers to a condition that a pre-school child exhibits obvious delay in his/her general development as compared with those of the same age.  Depending on the conditions of individual children, diagnosis of intellectual disability will only be confirmed after they are assessed by a standardised intelligence quotient test at the school age of 6 to 12.

Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:01