The Shenzhen Autism Society (SAS) yesterday launched a week-long project in this southern city to call on the public to care for people with autism.
It gained support from other non-governmental organizations devoted to helping children with autism in 12 Chinese provinces and cities including Hong Kong, Beijing and northeast China's Changchun.
During the week, SAS will host a series of forums to advise teachers and parents on how to give proper guidance to autistic children.
Although the word was first coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler in 1912 from the Greek word for "self," autism remains a strange term for most Chinese people.
Resulting from a neurone-developmental disorder, autistic persons usually have difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, and leisure or play activities. However, autistic people often possess extraordinary skill in one area such as mathematics. Although currently no cure exists, expert rehabilitation can improve their lifestyle.
There is a Chinese saying, "Raise children as a safeguard against the insecurity of the old age." Yet, Liao Xin, the mother of a 26-year-old son with autism, prays she can live as long as possible to take care of her son.
Liao has to accompany her grown-up son all the time. Besides his spontaneous screaming and laughing on the street, her son sometimes runs toward strangers and plays with their shirt buttons or bag zippers. Mistaking this for assault, the frightened people, especially women, shout at him and call the police despite his mother's apologies.
"I am nearly 60. I don't know how much time is left for me. When I die, who will take care of my son for me?" asked the desperate widow whose husband passed away a couple of years ago. She and her son now live on her meager retirement pension.
Currently there is a critical lack of programs or infrastructures for people with autism in China though the number is expanding.
The number has grown from one child in 15,000 in 1980s to one in 1,000, said SAS Chairman Fu Tengxiao. The central government officially listed autism as a mental disability early this year and pledged to allocate more resources to this group.
Currently, about 1.8 million children suffer from autism in China with the total figure of sufferers expected to be above 3 million. However, a dire need remains for treatment and trained professionals with facilities such as the Sincerity Kindergarten in China only taking care of a few children due to the lack of skilled specialists.
"Thirty mainland cities have been selected as pilot cities to study effective ways to help rehabilitate people with autism," Fu told China Daily. "Since it's a new policy, we hope the group can enjoy more free training starting from next year."
Liao Yanhui, secretary-general of SAS, who has an 11-year-old boy with autism, said it is also important for families to gain understanding and sympathy from the community.
"It will be good for children with autism to meet different people and for the community to understand and tolerate their abnormal behaviors," Liao said. However, she is still blamed for not curbing her son's outbursts, and kindergartens and schools refuse to take the boy on.
"It's a life-long war for mothers like me. The government should do more to provide quality rehabilitation when they are young and provide employment opportunities or caring homes when they are growing up," Liao said.
(China.org.cn, China Daily October 16, 2006)