A city's efforts to help people with autism integrate into society-Xinhua

A city's efforts to help people with autism integrate into society

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2023-04-03 17:10:15

A teacher interacts with an autistic child at a local training center for the disabled in Beichen District, north China's Tianjin Municipality, March 30, 2023. (Xinhua/Bai Jiali)

TIANJIN, April 3 (Xinhua) -- When Duoduo (pseudonym) was diagnosed with moderate-to-severe autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2015, his father burst into tears after staggering out of the consulting room.

Shortly afterward, Duoduo, then two years old, was accepted into a special education school in the Beichen District of north China's Tianjin Municipality for rehabilitation training under the recommendation of the local Federation of Disabled Persons.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by varying degrees of difficulty with social interaction and communication. In Duoduo's case, he barely had any reaction when other people talked to him, let alone talk back.

The early days at the school were especially tough -- it took Duoduo a month to learn how to say the word "apple," and when it came to the simple request of "bringing the apple over," he couldn't succeed even if teachers tried to break the action down into detailed steps.

When everyone was about to give up, a glimmer of hope emerged when the boy was found reactive to music. The teachers soon adjusted their training method for Duoduo, and things started to change. To the beat of the music, Duoduo said his name out loud for the first time.

More than two years later, Duoduo enrolled in a local kindergarten for regular kids based on an integrated education scheme that Beichen District has tailored for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

At age seven, Duoduo successfully got into a regular elementary school.

Beichen District started to explore integrated education in 2014. The scheme encourages the enrollment of special children into ordinary institutions after they've gained certain capabilities, and requires their previous teachers at special schools to visit them regularly to provide necessary help and support.

Over the years, integrated education has been expanded from preschool to compulsory and vocational education. With its help, Beichen produced the first autistic student in Tianjin who entered college by attending the national college entrance examination in 2019.

Even if they are lucky enough to finish their education, people with autism often face employment difficulties, an issue calling for multiple efforts from society.

Located in a bustling shopping plaza in Beichen District, four storefronts -- a bakery, a tea house, a flower shop, and a pottery workshop -- sit in a row, jointly serving as a supportive employment base for persons with disabilities.

Lili (pseudonym), a mother of an autistic child, manages the bakery as a volunteer. She acknowledged that employment stays the biggest headache for parents with autistic children.

"In recent years, China has vigorously promoted and supported the employment of the disabled group. However, compared with the physically disabled, it is still difficult for people like my kid to find a job," she said.

In these cute little shops, over 20 people with intellectual disabilities or autism are learning to develop their capabilities of integrating into society by making a cake, a cup of tea, a flower bouquet, or a pot and interacting with customers.

"It's better to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish. This is our philosophy," said Yang Fei, an official with a local training center for the disabled, a work team at the base.

This year's World Autism Awareness Day falls on Sunday. The WHO says that about one in 100 children has autism, while in China, the prevalence rate of autism among children has reached seven per 1,000 people, as reports showed.

Over recent years, autistic children in China have gained increasing attention and care. In 2022, China's National Health Commission released a trial protocol on autism screening and intervention services for children under the age of six to improve related services. The country has also released a work plan for improving special education for the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025).

On Saturday, Tianjin Municipality further raised the subsidies for rehabilitation training of children aged zero to seven who are diagnosed with hearing, physical, intellectual disabilities or autism.

Duoduo, now ten years old, is in the third grade and has been doing well at school, according to his mother.

"Duoduo has got a lot of good friends," she said, adding that every progress of her son means a lot to the whole family. 


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