Lu Xiao-tong
Chinese Child Autism Education and Support from Japan

 The concept of autism (in China, “isolation disorder”) was first introduced to China 20-something years ago. It can be traced to when, in 1982, Professor Tao Guo-tai of the Nanjing Children’s Mental Health Research Center first diagnosed child autism, but after that there was almost no development in research on or rehabilitation, child care, education, or welfare for autistic children, and the present state significantly lags behind developed countries such as Japan and the West.
 Even in regards to research, in the Chinese National Institute For Educational Research’s Chinese Special Education, the only academic journal in China for special education and education of children with special needs, there were no more than 11 articles related to autism published over the course of 45 volumes between 1994 and 2004, and in much the same way, in Chinese universities, including the Research in Special Education, (started publishing in 1992, ceased on 2002. Published quarterly) the research digest of Beijing Normal University, the first university in China to establish a major in Special Education, there were a mere 8 papers related to autism.
 Autism is not recognized as a disability under Chinese law. Since there are absolutely no government statistics on it, the number of autistic individuals is unclear, but it is often said amongst interested parties, without showing any clear evidence, that the number of autistic children in the country may be from 400,000 or 600,000 to 900,000 or 1,800,000. However, we can be sure that the number is not very small. It is said that the rate of occurrence of autism “in a narrow sense (typically) autism affects about three children out of every 1000, and if you also include pervasive development disorder (PDD) or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) then it is about one child out of every hundred” (Autism Manual, page 5, Autism Society of Japan), and if you accept that, then in China’s population of more than 1.3 billion people (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2004 report), the number of children with autism spectrum disorder would be 13 million or more (and of these, 3.9 million or more with classical autism).For reference, the number of people with disabilities in China, by disability, is indicated in Table 1.

Table 1. Number of disability sufferers in China, broken down by classification of disability.

Disability type
1987 2006
Total population 107,233 130,948
Number of disabled (2) 5,164(4.90%) 8,296(6.34%)
Hearing disability >1,770(1)

Speech disability   127
Mental retardation 1,017 554
Physical disability 755

Visual disability >755 1,233
Mental illness 194

Multiple disabilities 673

School enrollment rate 6% 76%
Note (1) In 1987 there was only a single total for hearing and speech related disabilities.
Note (2) Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are not included in the total national population.
Note (3) A survey of the Chinese disabled population has only been carried out twice, in 1987 and 2006.

 While China has this massive population of autistic children, there are virtually no government policies or systems related to their rehabilitation, child care, education or welfare. Autistic child education was first conducted in China in 1993, by Beijing’s “Star & Rain Autism Education institute.” ( As the only private educational institution for autistic children until the year 2000, it led the rehabilitation of autistic children in China. For autistic child education in China, and particularly early rehabilitation and pre-school education, relying on private rehabilitation facilities is the current norm. In recent years, private facilities for child autism rehabilitation have been springing up throughout China. While the number of facilities is unstable, (there are many cases of facilities opening and then soon shutting down again after not even a year) it is thought that at present there are at least 50 facilities. Public autistic child rehabilitation institutions began appearing from 2006.

 This author has up until now studied the needs of parents, facility staff and facilities themselves, and what is most strongly sought by parents is, along with the most expensive needs such as subsidies for the schooling and future of their children, the treatment and certification of the staff as specialists or teachers. For facilities, guarantees of the facility location and aid from the country are high priority needs. Other than that, the judgment of child autism through medical diagnoses is also an important need. At present, the concept and awareness of autism in continental China is extremely low, and there are a mere 13 locations that are able to determine child autism with a certain amount of expertise.

 External aid to private autism rehabilitation institutions, most of all from Japan, for improving the condition of child autism rehabilitation in China, began to flourish from 2002. Such aid has primarily been conducted by the following private bodies.
 From 2002, the Japan Portage Association (Chairman: Yamaguchi, Kaoru) dispatched instructors, held a Portage Early Rehabilitation System Training Conference, and is aiding the establishment of a China Portage Association.
 The Asahi Shimbun Social Welfare Organization became involved in Chinese child autism education from 2004, and has held events such as seminars by specialists. Since a visit in November of last year, they are planning a China child autism support project (from 2007, for one year.)
 The Gifu Social Welfare Corporate Body, 'Mitanikai' began providing aid to Beijing Stars and Rain in 2004, including welcoming trainees from China, and conducting invitation only workshops. In summer 2005, they started formal aid as a sister facility. The Gifu Japan-China Mitani Social Welfare Association (Chairman: Inoue, Kazuhiro) was established in 2005, has conducted frequent exchanges with child autism facilities in China, and provides aid such as welcoming trainees from China.
 The Ota Stages Study Group (Chairman: Ota, Masataka) introduced the developmental stages of child autism rehabilitation used in Japan to China through workshops, and actually employs the Ota Stages in real situations.
 In this way, exchanges of child autism rehabilitation between Japan and China have developed at the grass-roots level, and in 2006 the above related organizations teamed up and applied to JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) for support for their grass-roots support project; “Project to Support Rehabilitation of Autistic Children in China.” Thus support for autism rehabilitation in China is expected to undergo a turning point from private-sector exchanges to governmental exchange.
 The applicant for the “Project to Support Rehabilitation of Autistic Children in China” is this author. The author has specialized in research of Chinese autism rehabilitation since 1997, and has been active for a long period of time as the coordinator of the Project to Support Rehabilitation of Autistic Children in China. In March of 2005 the author established the “Japan China Development Support Association”, which supports the rehabilitation of autistic children in China. In November of 2006, support was received from people on the China side related to special education, and consent was obtained to carry out practical development regarding efforts to develop rehabilitation systems for autistic children in the author’s home town of Qinhuangdao City, in China’s Hebei Province (and if possible, for all autistic individuals.
 Hebei Province’s Qinhuangdao City has a population of 2.75 million is about 280 kilometers away from Beijing, and is known as a tourist and vacation getaway spot. The focus of the project is the related Qinhuangdao Special Education School (Principal: Tian Xue-feng), which is a model school for special education schools in China, and the campus of which also contains a new type of environment, facilities and equipment, etc. It is part of a network of special education schools in continental China, and possesses the conditions for the development and popularization of new techniques and knowledge. In particular, as part of the project it is thought that the rustic simplicity of the human environment in a small town is appropriate for the regional reintegration of autistic children.
 As a researcher on child autism rehabilitation in China, who resides in Japan, this author has looked at the pros and cons of the rehabilitation system for autistic children in Japan. Researchers on autism rehabilitation in Japan have incorporated the expert knowledge of developed countries, and workers in the field are actively trying to apply this expertise clinically. However, it feels like both countries are being sloppy in how they integrate various rehabilitation systems. As a result, even though 50 years have passed, Japan does not have an original system. This project dispatches experts from Japan and takes in clinical guidance. It will, together with the propagation of knowledge, develop and implement systems suitable for China, and also hopes to be a useful reference for the further development of systems for rehabilitation of autistic children, both in Japan and throughout the region.