Timor-Leste must ensure Early Intervention for Children with Autism

Timor-Leste must ensure Early Intervention for Children with Autism

The Clinical Director of the Hospital Nacional Guido Valadares, Marcelino Correia (Photo Tatoli)

DILI, 02 april 2023 (TATOLI) – The number of children born with autism increases every year, yet there is still no early intervention and special treatment for autistic children in the country to ensure the goal of leaving no one behind.

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH), early interventions occur at or before preschool age, as early as two or three years of age. In this period a child’s brain is still forming, which means that it is more ‘plastic’ or changeable than at older ages.

NIH also states that early interventions not only give children the best start possible but also the best chance of developing to their full potential. The sooner a child gets help, the greater the chance for learning and progress.

The Clinical Director of the Hospital Nacional Guido Valadares, Marcelino Correia said it is necessary to create an Autism Specific Care Program (ASCP) to provide early intervention and special care for autistic children in Timor-Leste.

So far, any special healthcare programs for children with autism in the country have not been set up by the health authorities.

“There is still no Specific Care Programme for Autistic Children in the country. Therefore, World Autism Awareness Day reminds us to design and create Autism Programs in the future to provide special treatment for children with autism,” said Correia at the HNGV, in Dili.

He stressed that autism programs are critical to providing intensive treatment for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder who are not able to safely participate in treatment. 

Correia called on parents to seek early identification and treatment for their autistic children at health care centers: “Early diagnosis and interventions for autism are more likely to have important long-term positive effects on symptoms and later skills.”

“Thus, parents are the first persons who should know the condition of their children in order to avoid any kind of discrimination against children with autism in the family,” he added.

So far, there is only one Early Intervention Centre known as ALMA Orphanage Centre, established by the Association of the Institute for Lay Missionaries (ALMA) Sisters, in Dili. The center is specialized and focused on early intervention for children with autism and Down’s syndrome.

“Early intervention programs help children acquire the basic skills they normally learn in the first five years of life, including physical, thinking, and communication skills,” ALMA therapist, Makrina Lewo told TATOLI.

Currently, ALMA provides special support to 18 autistic children with special educational needs to guarantee their right to education like all other children. 

“We need different and specific skills to teach them because special education provides them with specialized instruction designed to meet their unique learning needs,” Lewo said. 

According to the most recent Population and Housing Census, there were just over 38,000 people in Timor-Leste with a disability, and only 30 percent of children with disabilities in the country attend school.

Research by the UNICEF International Child Development Centre on Promoting the Rights of Children with Disabilities found that children with disabilities and their families consistently experience barriers to their enjoyment of their basic human rights and their inclusion in society.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres said: “On World Autism Awareness Day, we celebrate the contributions of persons with autism and renew our resolve to advance their inherent rights.”

He stressed that despite important progress, persons with autism continue to face social and environmental barriers to the full exercise of their rights and fundamental freedoms, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“We must do better – by promoting inclusive education, equal employment opportunities, self-determination, and an environment where every person is respected. And as we do so, we also recognize the role of families, caregivers, and support networks in the lives of persons with autism,” Guterres said. 



Journalist: Filomeno Martins 

Editor: Nelia Borges


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