Welcoming Autistic Kids In China

From Ni Dandan at Sixth Tome:

Duan, who was diagnosed with a mild form of autism spectrum disorder at 2 years old, is now in his second year at Dongguan Yulan Experimental Kindergarten, known locally as “Yulan.”

The public preschool is the only facility in the southern Chinese city that offers so-called integrated education — a model that has preschoolers without special needs learn, play, and socialize alongside those receiving support for certain conditions.

Of the 160 kids enrolled here, 18 require extra learning support due to autism and other conditions, like cerebral palsy, and hearing disabilities. This relatively high ratio means that each class of around 30 children accommodates two or three with special needs.

Half of China’s autistic kids do not attend school at all.

Sharp contrast in USA, thanks to special education law.

Yulan was established in September 2016. Its integrated education model aims to provide greater support for special-needs children and their families than they would receive at other public-sector preschools. Regardless of their ability, all the kids in Duan’s class take the same basic classes in literacy, music, and games. Uniquely for Dongguan, the kindergarten also employs in-house behavioral therapists to give much-needed guidance to young autistic children, their teachers, and their families.

“Here, his teachers, classmates, and other parents treat him just like any other kid,” says Yang Jiuxiang, Duan’s mother. “I’d say 90 percent of the people I know who have autistic children don’t send them to kindergartens. I’m lucky that my son has found such an inclusive environment.”

The term “integrated education” gained popularity in China during the 1990s, but the model still has deep-seated problems. First, preschools seldom have enough specialist staff members on hand to help special-needs children flourish. In addition, school administrators often either refuse to admit children with learning disabilities or isolate them from their peers, fearing blowback from teachers and parents.

I wonder if there is an opportunity here. Just thinking out loud: many Chinese parents crave excellent American teachers. What if someone were to recruit a large posse of mission-driven such teachers, pair them with some autism specialists, and open-up some more schools like Yulan? The idea is once the parents are impressed and there is a line out the door, they won’t continue to fear the autistic children. Defeat the stigma. Then the word spreads.

“Magnet schools” were created in the USA to help desegregation. The idea was white parents would find the magnet school’s curriculum so impressive, they would overcome their fear of integrated schools. I wonder if the same psychology might help create more “integrated education” for autistic children in China.

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