There is still no clear consensus on what causes autism, the president of the Cambodian Intellectual Disability and Autism Network (Cidan) told The Post on Monday after attending the Asia-Pacific Autism Conference Singapore 2019 (Apac 2019).

Cidan president Chan Sarin was speaking after the conference in the city-state that ran from Thursday to Saturday last week and was attended by some 2,000 experts representing 30 countries.

Hundreds of experts on autism from around the world heard presentations on the latest autism research under the theme Thriving with Autism at Resorts World Sentosa on Singapore’s Sentosa island.

Sarin told The Post that although the determining factor leading to children developing autism has been found, until now experts from the many countries attending the conference were unable to clearly show the real cause.

“In all the talks over these few days, no one in the world can say which country has the highest incidence of autism, as there is no clear data, even in Australia, the US and Japan."

“Cambodia, as an Asean member, provides children with the right to education and each country was asked to focus on the education sector for autistic children,” he said.

Sarin said autism is a disorder affecting brain development. People who suffer from the condition may have difficulty communicating, both verbally and in understanding gestures or facial expressions, he said.

Most symptoms of autism first appear in children between two and three years old, Sarin said.

He said symptoms include closing and opening one’s hands, walking on tiptoe, banging one’s head against objects, stubbornness, screaming, mood swings, a quick temper, and not making eye contact.

Denise Phua, the chairman of the Apac 2019 Organising Committee and president of the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), said: “This is the first time Apac has been held outside Australia since its inception in 2009.

“The conference theme – Thriving with Autism – reflects our aspiration towards achieving a quality of life for all persons with autism, their families and the professionals serving in the community.”

Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development of Singapore, said in a speech at the conference that autism is widespread throughout the world and the World Health Organisation estimates that one child in 160 children has the disorder.

Lee said the world is constantly receiving better information and more awareness of autism. Technology to diagnose the disorder and intervene as quickly as possible is also improving.

“Asia Pacific countries are at different stages in their development pathways and take different strategies to deal with autism."

“The Asia-Pacific Autism Conference is an opportunity to share new discoveries and best practices, and help better understand autism and learn from each other,” he said.

Cidan president Sarin said between 5,000 and 10,000 children have autism in Cambodia. “While the disorder is fairly new to most people, guardians seem to be more aware of the issue and are therefore able to spot the symptoms and send their children to appropriate schools in a timely fashion,” he said.