The most recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that one in 54 children is autistic.
It is estimated that the total number of people with autism disorder is around 70 million worldwide. In Macau there are more than 400, that is, 400 families currently suffer from the difficulties inherent to the autism spectrum.
Some parents of autistic children in Macau share that after finishing school they are guided to work in specialized positions offered by the Institute of Social Action. However, these markets are saturated, with vacancies available only after the departure of one of these autistic workers and, therefore, it is a lengthy process. Workplaces are also more willing to employ workers with physical disabilities without any mental disturbance than vice versa, such as autism. In terms of remuneration, the MSAR Government offers subsidies to disabled workers, but this does not follow the requirements of the minimum wage offered to other employees. The maximum amount of this subsidy is 6,656 patacas, equivalent to the minimum wage for other workers.
Workers with disabilities are not covered by the minimum income guarantee, in addition to facing a saturated market with a shortage of vacancies, leading their guardians to worry about the possible inability to take care of them, as well as the difficulty in finding a means of self-subsistence and integration into society.
Many families believe that the government-provided caregiver subsidy only covers residents with severe mental disabilities, a severe form of autism spectrum disorder, or people who are bedridden—very limiting requirements. First, it is difficult to diagnose the severity of autistic disorder symptoms in children. In addition to all the basic personal care, autistic children require a lot of care, effort and money to provide them with specialized treatment and rehabilitation. That is, families with both working parents who take care of autistic children will have to pay very high values to hire professionals capable of taking care of these family members, ending up with one parent sacrificing his full-time job. There is also no clinical cure for autism, and rehabilitation training is the only way to improve their ability to interact with society and reduce abnormal behaviors.
However, this rehabilitation implies high costs, scarce professional resources and long waiting times. These problems, in addition to the financial costs, can generate emotional stress among families and have a serious impact on the recovery and development of the person with autism.
It is the responsibility of all community members to show concern for the difficulties of survival and development of these families and to offer them adequate assistance, demonstrating the humanist character of Macao society.
*Association of Public Service Workers of Macau