Autism, ADHD & Dyslexia in Singapore – Cost Guide to Testing & Treatment

autism adhd dyslexia singapore 2018

One of the problems with modern parenthood is that you’re always wondering whether your child’s academic and disciplinary issues are due to regular naughty kid behaviour or if there’s a condition behind it, such as ADHD, dyslexia or autism.

Although they are completely different developmental disorders, they are often discussed together because they share several symptoms. Not only that, people who have one condition can often also have another (e.g. ADHD + dyslexia).

If you suspect your kid has autism, ADHD or dyslexia, take heart. In Singapore, there are not only several avenues to test for each, there are also many places you can turn to for information, support and resources. Here’s a cost guide to how you can proceed:

Autism in Singapore – where to go for testing & treatment

Autism is a lifelong disability with no known cause. For people with autism, the different parts of the brain don’t “communicate” well with each other. As a result, they can’t make sense of the world or relate to other people, and often have problems with language, emotions and abstract concepts.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism. Although people with Asperger’s also find it difficult to communicate and socialise with others or participate in social imagination and creative play, they have fewer language difficulties.

In Singapore, 1 in 150 children has autism. Statistically, boys are up to 4 times more likely to have the condition.

Common autism symptoms in kids

The earliest symptom of autism is usually delayed speech. That’s why even though autism occurs from birth, diagnosis only takes place when the child is 18 months and older, and can only be reliably confirmed by 24 to 36 months.

Other symptoms include refusal to make eye contact or communicate, tendency to ignore others, and difficulty with non-verbal cues (e.g. gestures, facial expressions and body language). Autistic kids sometimes also exhibit repetitive behaviours and unusual interests (e.g.  car logos).

Another telltale sign is the “meltdown”, sometimes in response to minor changes in surroundings or to certain stimuli (sounds, smells, tastes, lights…). You might mistake it for a tantrum, but, unlike tantrums, these are involuntary reactions to sensory overload and can’t be calmed by rewards or discipline.

Autism test in Singapore (public route)

If you suspect your child has autism, get him diagnosed by a professional. Because the condition is complex, it usually takes 2 to 3 sessions for the doctor to assess your child.

For younger kids who haven’t started primary school yet, the most affordable route is to go to a polyclinic to get a referral (either to KK Hospital or NUH Child Development Unit). You will need to wait about 2 months or so to get an appointment though.

If your child has started primary school, you can go to the school counsellor to get a referral. You’ll be routed to HPB’s Child Guidance Clinic. (Don’t panic if you see the address for the Institute of Mental Health in your appointment – the clinic is located there but is not part of IMH.)

Alternatively, ask the counsellor to activate the REACH team, which comprises doctors, psychologists, social workers, therapists and nurses who will work with the school to assess and help your child.

Cost: From $200 for the autism test, plus about $40 per consultation. You can use your child’s CDA to pay for these (but not Medisave).

Autism test in Singapore (private route)

There are several private clinics, paediatricians and centres that run tests for autism. While it is more expensive, there are some advantages. You can get an appointment within days. And you can read up on the doctors or the institutions, or get recommendations to pick the right one for your child.

Here are some private centres in Singapore that specialise in developmental disorders like autism:

Cost: The autism test itself generally costs about the same as it would in a public hospital, around $200 to $300. However, it can go way up to $3,000 at some private centres as they may administer more tests or special types of tests.

The real wallet-killer here is the cost of consultation, which has a massive range. Budget a couple of hundred dollars per consultation, as these tests are a rather time-consuming affair.

If, after the initial consultation, you decide to go ahead with the assessment, most private doctors will deduct the cost of the initial consultation from the price of the assessment.

Autism treatment – what are the options?

There is no medicine for autism. Sometimes medication may be given to manage the symptoms related to the condition such as depression, seizures or irritability. In fact, some don’t consider autism an illness that needs to be cured.

So the course of treatment usually focuses on managing the condition through education and therapy. If done properly, children with autism can develop into normal adults though they may remain socially awkward.

If your child is under 7, you can enrol him at an EIPIC (Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children) centre run by SG Enable, a government agency. They provide therapy and educational support for very young children to help them develop better.

Your child can attend mainstream schools if his autism is mild. Once he begins primary school, he may be given an allied educator or special needs-trained teachers to support him during lessons.

Alternatively, he can attend a special education school. There are 3 dedicated to autism – Pathlight School, Eden School and St Andrew’s Autism School – plus 13 others that also cater to children with autism. This MOE guide for parents of kids with special needs is particularly helpful.

In addition, there are lots of private centres that focus on therapy, but this really depends on your child’s needs as every kid is different.

ADHD in Singapore – where to go for testing & treatment

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a disorder where brain development is affected – specifically, the parts of the brain responsible for focusing, planning and organisation.

The condition is usually diagnosed when the child begins school and can’t seem to pay attention or sit still. ADHD tends to run in the family, with boys being 3 times more likely to have it than girls. Children who were born premature, have low birth weights or mothers who smoked or drank during pregnancy also have a higher chance of developing ADHD.

Common ADHD symptoms in kids

The three main symptoms of ADHD are:

  • Hyperactive (can’t sit still, fidgets)
  • Inability to control impulses
  • Trouble paying attention (easily distracted)

As a result, people with ADHD may have trouble managing time, setting goals, focusing on activities, following orders, exercising self-control and managing emotions. They may be forgetful, moody, daydreamy and/or talkative (e.g. interrupts other people).

ADHD test in Singapore

It’s sometimes difficult for parents to recognise ADHD in very young children because the inability to sit still, the lack of impulse control and the short attention span are classic toddler behaviour. But if you suspect your child has ADHD, bring him to a professional for a proper diagnosis.

Most of the places that test for autism listed above will also test for ADHD, as the procedure is similar.

Cost: Expect to pay about $300 to $500 for consultation and test for ADHD

ADHD medication & treatment options

With ADHD, a multi-prong treatment is usually required. Therapy and medication work hand-in-hand with lifestyle changes like diet, school and exercise.

Because ADHD is a neurological disorder as well, medication is given to regulate the chemicals in the brain. They work by stimulating the parts of the brain that control focus and self-control so they can function properly.

Behaviour, cognitive and psychological therapies along with counselling have been found to be helpful. These target specific actions, emotions or social interactions. Often, the therapies involve structuring time at home, creating routines and increasing positive attention.

Diet, nutrition and exercise are also helpful. A healthy diet with unprocessed foods alleviate some people’s symptoms, while exercise releases feel-good chemicals to help kids with depressive tendencies.

Kids with ADHD can choose to be in mainstream schools with the option to have an allied educator or specially-trained teacher to support them when they start primary school.

The same places that diagnosed your child can treat him as well. In addition, there are not-for-profit organisations you can turn to for aid or support:

Dyslexia in Singapore – where to go for testing & intervention

Unlike autism and ADHD, dyslexia isn’t a neuro-behavioural disorder. Dyslexia cannot be cured and is a lifelong learning difficulty. However, dyslexics can lead fulfilling lives with the help of early intervention, teaching them skills and methods to cope with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a type of specific learning difficulty identifiable as a developmental difficulty of language learning and cognition. It primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness (related to sounds), verbal memory and processing speed.

Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor coordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.

No one knows what causes dyslexia, though it tends to run in the family. And while they are of average or above intelligence, kids with dyslexia may do poorly in school. They’re not lazy or stupid. Dyslexics just need more time to learn at their own pace.

Common dyslexia symptoms in kids

Dyslexic children often have trouble with their letters. They may confuse similar-looking letters (e.g. b and p) and words that start with the same letter, or be unable to write words even after you spell them out.

Because of this, people with dyslexia tend to have reading problems. They may skip words/lines when they read, complain that words/lines on a page seem to move, or simply can’t understand what they’re reading.

The same language problem spills over to the written and spoken word as well. Dyslexics often have difficulty copying things down, expressing themselves verbally, and can even have bad handwriting and be poor in maths.

Dyslexia test in Singapore

Different kids show different symptoms and the symptoms may change as they get older. Because of this, it’s difficult to know for certain if your child is dyslexic without professional assessment.

The process to get your child tested for dyslexia is the same as that for testing for autism and ADHD, involving a public and private route with input from parents and school.

The difference is that MOE has now begun a systemic screening for primary school children to identify those who might need to be professionally assessed for dyslexia. This makes it easier for kids to get help.

Apart from the various centres listed above, you can also turn to the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).

Cost: Expect to pay from $300 to $600 for tests and diagnosis at most public and private centres. The DAS is more expensive, ranging from $800 upwards. However, fees at DAS are heavily subsidised for those who are eligible for bursaries.

Dyslexia treatment – what are the options?

Dyslexia can’t be cured and your child won’t outgrow it. But, it can be managed so that he can overcome the learning challenges and maximise his learning potential.

Treatment involves equipping him with mechanisms to cope with dyslexia. Usually this comprises a reading programme to improve his language skills, plus general learning strategies to help him cope in school.

These “enrichment classes” typically cost about $500 to $800 per school term, and you can find them at most of these centres:

Do you know anyone with autism, ADHD or dyslexia? Share your tips with us in the comments.