Opening up on autism

Updated: 2013-04-03 02:20

By Liu Zhihua and Nick Compton (China Daily)

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Opening up on autism

Beijing's Kangnazhou aims to provide care and life skill trainings to autistic youngsters. The training courses include baking and basic computer skill.

Only one or two decades ago, autistic children in China usually failed to get an early diagnosis. Even when parents had their child diagnosed with autism, they were clueless as to how to deal with the situation, because there were few institutes providing education and intervention.

Zhang Zhuo, in his 40s and a native of Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, knows this from experience. Within a few months of his son's birth, Zhang Zhuo realized something was wrong. The baby seemed indifferent to his parents' attention, refused eye contact, and showed no signs of language development. Aged 5, the son was diagnosed with a disorder Zhang Zhuo had never heard of. Autism. The diagnosis changed Zhang's life.

"The first time I knew what autism meant, I felt as if the sky had fallen on me," Zhang says.

He enrolled his son in a costly private institute in Wuhan, Hubei province, and traveled every weekend to see him. In 2004, motivated by the inconvenience of traveling and the economic burden, Zhang established his own training center in Jiujiang, which grew fast.

Zhang got help from Star and Rain, now one of the most celebrated private autism facilities in China, founded in 1993, by the mother to an autistic son.

Zhang Zhuo's success was bittersweet. "Parents like me founded training centers and other facilities. We had no choice. There were no support elsewhere, and we had to help ourselves out," Zhang says.

Through the relentless effort of parents like Zhang, the situation has changed for the better.

Hundreds of facilities for autistic children have sprung up all over China and many local governments now subsidize families of children with autism. The public is also more tolerant and compassionate towards the autistic, Zhang Zhuo says.

Fang Jing, mother to a 22-year-old autistic son, and founder of Elimautism, an autism facility in Qingdao, Shandong provinc, agrees.