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Shenzhen provides whole-life-cycle support for children with autism

Updated: Apr 9, 2024 Print
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"Mom! The class is over. I'm hungry," Beibei (alias), a child with autism, cried as he rushed to his mother Wang Yiyi after the rehabilitation training was finished.

Though such acts are too normal for many children after school, it holds significant value for Beibei as it took him more than four years to achieve this milestone, Oriental Outlook reported.

Beibei was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. He didn't speak, make eye contact, or even have body language.

Autism, a neuro developmental disorder that begins in early childhood, is characterized with social and communication difficulties, stereotyped behaviors and narrow interests. Statistics show that the prevalence of autistic children in China is about one percent, and the proportion of boys with autism is much higher than that of girls, about 4:1.

To improve Beibei's conditions, Wang has quit work and devoted full time to his son's rehabilitation.

"I take him to the hospital every morning and to the rehabilitation center in the afternoon. On weekends, he receives art training," Wang said.

Thanks to intensive rehabilitation training, Beibei's ability to speak and self-care has seen an obvious improvement. At the age of four, he has enrolled in a kindergarten but goes only for half a day every day, which is still a big relief to his family.

Children with autism are often called "children of the stars" in China because they usually leave the impressions of having a rich and sensitive inner world but closing themselves off just like stars shining in the universe.

For children with autism, those studying in a regular school perform better in attention, grades and behavioral control than those with special education, research has shown. Therefore, how to help autistic children enter ordinary schools to learn, and even cope with normal social and learning challenges, has become the goal of special education in recent years.

To provide comprehensive services to the children in need of special care, an institution that integrates medical care, rehabilitation and education was established in Shenzhen's Longgang district, in Oct 2019, as an innovative exploration in the service tailored to special children.

In the institution, each child is cared by a rehabilitation team composed of doctors, rehabilitation therapists, special education teachers and social workers. Family intervention is also involved.

Different therapeutic schedule are customized for different child and the team tracks the real-time situation of the child's learning, life and social adaptation, and adjusts the plan dynamically, according to Weng Tingting with the Longgang Disabled Persons' Service Center.

As of today, the institution has adopted "health care, rehabilitation and education" service mode on 168,000 special children.

In October 2023, Shenzhen launched an implementation plan to ensure that the relevant policies and service support covers the whole life cycle of the autistic group.

The plan states that rehabilitation and assistance should be highlighted during the preschool stage, and special education emphasized during the compulsory education stage, with "assistant teachers", aka "shadow teachers", and auxiliary and supportive employment prioritized for autistic people at an appropriate age of employment. Those who don't have labor ability will be provided with care services.

The plan also aims to encourage related enterprises and institutions to provide support for autism groups, including schools, hospitals, communities, companies, and public transportation sectors, and by doing so, to create a barrier-free, more understanding and inclusive social environment for them.

"The greatest significance of the 'whole-life-cycle support service' system is to build safety nets to the families with autistic child and strengthen their confidence in their children's future," said Dong Fei with the Shenzhen Disabled Persons' Federation.

The total number of the people with disabilities in China is more than 85 million, of which more than 13 million individuals suffer from autism, with an annual increase of nearly 200,000 people and the incidence rate ranking the first among mental disabilities, according to the census report released by the China Disabled Persons' Federation in 2023.

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