China's autistic kids walking a lonely, dark path

10:31, April 03, 2010      

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Parents sacrifice all to prepare their special children for society

Ten-year-old Xu Hao screamed and struggled as his mother tried to stop him from pulling at the cord of the family's only electrical appliance, a cooker.

"I don't know what will happen to him in the future. He's still unable to take care of himself," said Xu's mother, Tan Xiumei, 33.

The rural woman left her home in Bijie, one of the poorest areas of Guizhou province, two weeks ago and rented a 7-square-meter room in the outskirts of the provincial capital, Guiyang, hoping her only son would receive treatment and, hopefully, some schooling.

Unlike other children of his age, Xu is unable to attend a normal school. Fearing he might hurt himself, his mother rarely takes her eyes off him.

"When he's furious, he hits whoever is around and bites himself ferociously," she said.

Xu is just one of at least 1 million Chinese children who suffer from autism, a condition that affects as many as one in 250 children in the country, according to estimates by experts in Guiyang.

A non-governmental autism website in Beijing estimates the incidence could be as high as one in 100 children for both genders. No official figures are available.

The so-called "autistic spectrum disorder" ranges from mild Asperger's syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability. There is no cure or widely accepted treatment.

The Chinese, who came to know the disease in 1982, are increasingly aware of autism and the social problems it causes.

In the run-up to the third World Autism Awareness Day, which fell on Friday, health facilities across China provided free check ups, lectures and training with hopes of increasing public awareness of the disorder and detect autism cases at an early stage.

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