Zhou Nian-li
(East China Normal University Graduate School of Pre-school Education and Special Education)
“Thoughts toward the Developmental Support for Autistic Children”

It was in the latter half of 1980s when autism first started gaining recognition in China, and only recently has it generated much more interest. Presently, the number of children between the ages of 2 to 18 who are within the range of the autistic spectrum is estimated to be approximately 180,000. However, no conclusion has been reached on what sort of developmental disorder autism is nor has it been agreed how to classify the type of disability that autistic spectrum disorder belongs to. Additionally, there is no defined development for any support or supporting system regarding the issue. To us, supporting the mental and physical development of a vast number of children with autistic spectrum disorders is an important issue.
 We feel that support for the mental and physical development of children with autistic spectrum disorder can be done through two approaches: early detection and early intervention.

The importance of early detection and early intervention

Early detection
 Early detection involves high risk infants from one to two and a half years of age.
 Until recently, it was thought that the diagnosis of autism wasn’t possible until a child had reached the age of two and a half years. According to research studying actual conditions, a majority of parents begin noticing autistic tendencies in their children after they reach age three, usually through the phenomenon of the child not being able to speak. Needless to say, detection at this late stage is greatly disadvantage for early intervention.  To make early detection possible, consideration should be given to use diagnostic criteria and observation record sheets related to early detection from the time of a child’s one year old health check. We are planning to consult the already existing observation checklists for checking autistic spectrum disorder and diagnostic criteria of infants to develop criteria for early detection that is appropriate to the developmental stage of infants.

Early intervention
 Early intervention applies to children between the ages of two and a half and five years old who are diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. Early intervention involves two aspects, early psychological treatment and integrated childcare.

 Early psychological treatment means individual developmental support for children with autistic spectrum disorder. We intend to attempt to conduct sand play therapy, psychosynthesis, client centered play therapy, etc. tailored to the characteristics of the psychological development of infants and toddlers.
 Integrated childcare is a method of putting children with autistic spectrum disorder in groups with other children, giving them developmental support within a group of their peers. We are considering suggesting the following model for integrated childcare and implementing it based on that model.

Systematic model for integrated childcare
 The systematic model for integrated childcare is a childcare system in which all of the childcare teachers form a team in the kindergarten centered around the teachers of special classes containing disabled children, while the director of the kindergarten acts as the leader. The responsibilities for the director, special class teachers and all childcare teachers in this model are as follows:

1) Duties of the kindergarten director
 The major role of the director is to make sure all the teachers have a strong awareness of integrated childcare. The director makes it possible to conduct integrated childcare not only through the teachers in charge of special classes, but through all teachers in the kindergarten, by ensuring they obtain sufficient knowledge about children with autistic spectrum disorder.
 Next, directors need to grasp the aspect of presenting the implementation policies of integrated childcare. These children have various needs, and in response to these requirements, the curriculum and practice of childcare also must be varied. The director shall conduct specific guidance for that purpose.
2) Duties of teachers in charge of special classes
 First, they perform integrated childcare at childcare site following the guidance of the director.
 Additionally, they make the other teachers aware of issues about youngsters with autistic spectrum disorder to all other teachers and work to ensure that the team is able to smoothly carry out integrated childcare.
3) Duties of all childcare teachers
 First, voluntarily learn the methods and theory of integrated childcare.
 Next, frequently obtain information about children with autistic spectrum disorder in the school from the special class teachers and be prepared to capably respond to it.

Morphological model for integrated childcare

 This model assumes various forms of childcare for young children with autism spectrum disorder at a nursing site. The primary contents are group childcare versus individualized childcare, unified childcare versus flexible childcare, and childcare conducted as a combination of those. There are mainly 4 types in this unified childcare:
 1)  “Group - unified” type childcare   This form of childcare allows ordinary children and children with autistic spectrum to interact. This is also helpful in cultivating thoughtful attention and compassionate feelings in ordinary children. This form of childcare is centered on collective play.
 2) “Group - flexible” type childcare   The major theme of this form of childcare is to allow young children with autism to gain a feeling of togetherness with others. Even though there are group activities, if it seems too difficult for children with autistic spectrum disorder to adjust their pace to the entire group, they will be granted the ability to act freely.
 3) “Individual - unified” type childcare   In cases where young children with autistic spectrum disorder want to participate in unified activities but are limited due to their physical or mental condition, this form of childcare is conducted. Unified childcare means matching content to the actual state of the autistic child and adjusting it in a quantitative, spatial and temporal manner.
 4) “Individual - flexible” type childcare   In the event that a young child with autistic spectrum disorder is unable under any circumstances to interact with other children, this form of childcare is conducted. However, due to the fact that this form of childcare does not conform to integrated childcare's goal of placing importance on peer interaction, it must be adopted with due discretion.

 A cooperative model for integrated childcare   The core of this model is to support young autistic children and their parents through the cooperation of various organizations.   In this model, kindergarten, homes, communities, and medical institutions related to autistic children share information about them and build a good and cooperative relationship through the responsibilities of their own positions.

 Currently, the author is studying practical methods and theory related to “integrated childcare” in Japan, under Professor Kageyama of Nagoya University's Graduate School of Human Development Psychological Clinic, as a fellow of the Japan Foundation.
 From 1991 to 1995, the author studied at the Ochanomizu University College of Psychology. I am planning to conduct joint research on early detection and intervention for handicapped children, especially autistic children, with my teacher during this period, Mr. Tamotsu Fujinaga.
 The author studied psychometrics under Professor Hiroshi Watanabe of Tokyo University's Graduate School of Education, Faculty of Education. After obtaining her master's degree in education from Tokyo University in 1998, I returned to my home country. Using the methods psychometrics learned, I have been planning to develop criterion for early detection as described above.
 In 2004, I studied subjects related to the early detection of autistic children and the emotional growth of infants and toddlers under Professor Nancy Esienberg of Arizona State University and Professor Toby Long of Georgetown University.
 New revelations about autism are rapidly discovered, meaning there are many issues that need consideration in regards to supporting the upbringing of autistic children. In the future, the author hopes to collaborate with any number of researchers from many different countries around the world.