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Across China: Autism recovery NGOs struggle to carry on

(Xinhua)    19:53, April 02, 2015

HEFEI, April 2 -- Ai Xin is manager of an autism center in east China's Anhui Province and after ten years of success her institution faces a future of uncertainty.

The Zhiaiyangguang center in the provincial capital of Hefei was founded by eight families with autistic children in 2005. Each family invested 5,000 yuan (800 U. S. dollars).

Zhiaiyangguang has helped over 350 autistic children. Currently, there are more than 50 students there, aged from two to 22.

The center has been forced to move six times, as a result of rising rent and some people's objections to having the center in their neighborhood.

"The center made a loss of 160,000 yuan in 2014 due to relocation. We have been losing about 10,000 yuan per month this year," Ai said. The founding families had to come up with 50,000 yuan each last year to keep the organization afloat.

It's not just money, the center has constant problems in recruiting qualified teachers.

"To be frank, it is very hard to find new teachers. It requires both professional skills and exceptional patience to take care of autistic children. A person without some idealism won't stay long," said Wang Ying, education director.

Since graduating from college with a degree in special education in 2006, Wang has been working in Zhiaiyangguang. As the best paid teacher in the center, she makes only 3,000 yuan per month, lower than the city's average monthly wage which is over 4,000 yuan.

Anhui Province has been running a program since 2012, whereby autistic children under the age of 10 can receive a 12,000 yuan educational grant each year. More than 1,000 children have benefited so far, and about half of the children in Zhiaiyangguang are eligible.

"Some impoverished children have to give up when they reach the age limit. Last month, one of our children went back to his hometown," Ai Xin said. "We feel sorry for the parents but cannot offer our help for free."

The local government gives some money to the center every year and there are also donations, but it is not enough.

"We received a total of 70,000 yuan from 2005 to 2014," she said.

According to the China Education Association, incidence of autism is about 1 percent in China, indicating that the number of people with autism could be over 10 million with about 2 million children under 14 years old.

Only a small fraction of these children receive professional help. Only11,000 autistic children are registered in rehabilitation organizations nationwide.

Currently, most autism training centers are private.

Xu Xiaoming, head of a non-governmental autism association in Wuhu City, believes many private autism organizations are struggling to survive.

Mother of an autistic child herself, Xu established the association in 2012, providing free help for autistic children.

Although the association has been receiving support from the local government, it is hindered by small premises and a lack of money, she said.

Although encouraged by government, the inclusive education for autistic children is almost nonexistent in China. Many autistic children still cannot share a mainstream classroom with their peers, even after special training.

Xu blames a lack of special education teachers, and some are still prejudiced toward autistic children. "In these circumstances, NGOs must shoulder great responsibilities."

Besides worrying about the future of her students, Wang Ying is also troubled by gloomy job prospects. Teachers in private autism centers do not qualify for professional titles or certification.

"I have spent nine years here without obtaining any credentials. If the organization is closed, I don't know where I will go," she said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Kong Defang,Yao Chun)

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