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Parents of autistic children in Hong Kong face long waits for government-funded rehabilitation therapy. The waiting time for preschool services is usually one year, but it can be as long as three in extreme cases. Parents find themselves in line after line as they try to arrange training for their children.
Mainstream therapy for autism includes applied behavioral analysis, speech and occupational therapy, and social skills classes, according the website of the Hong Kong Education Bureau.
While private institutions offer treatment for children with autism, the fees are too high for many families.
It is generally believed that the best time for training autistic children is before they start school at age 6, but the delays in government programs force most parents to skip the waiting list and look to private therapy.
A brief online search by China Daily found that applied behavioral analysis, or ABA, and language-therapy classes at private facilities cost more than several hundred Hong Kong dollars an hour. A monthlong course of ABA therapy could cost as much as HK$53,000 ($6,750), according to the website of one private institution.
That is beyond the range of most residents of Hong Kong, where the median monthly income was HK$28,000 in the fourth quarter of last year.
The problem is becoming more urgent as the number of autistic children in the city is rising rapidly. In the 2016/17 school year, ordinary public schools in Hong Kong recorded 7,820 students with autism, but in 2012/13, the number was 4,150, according to the education bureau, an 88 percent rise in just four years. However, there are no statistics about the number of autistic children studying in the private sector or being home-schooled.
The Hong Kong government responded to the treatment shortage by introducing a pilot program called On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services. The program, inaugurated in 2015, directs teams of professionals to schools to provide basic therapy to preschoolers with special needs. The service helped to cut the waiting list for therapy and, as a result, became a regular program in the current school year. The government plans to provide an additional 2,000 places for on-site rehabilitation services in the 2019/20 school year.
In its 2019-20 budget, the city plans to gradually establish two additional Support Centers for Persons with Autism, and raise the number of social workers and therapists.
Parents in Hong Kong who suspect their children may have autism can apply for assessment and diagnostic services at the Child Assessment Service Center at the Department of Health of the Hong Kong SAR government. If Autism Spectrum Disorder is confirmed, the child is referred to different government-funded preschool rehabilitation centers, depending on the severity of the condition.
Those ages 2 to 5 with ASD can receive rehabilitation services at the Early Education and Training Centre, and at an integrated program at the Kindergarten-cum-Child Care Centre. Those who require more-intensive support are eligible for placements at the Special Child Care Centre.
School-age children with ASD can receive special training at mainstream schools or special schools, depending on their condition.