Hope for Shanghai’s autistic children

Hope for Shanghai’s autistic children

Qing Cong Quan Autism Center, one of seven such schools in Shanghai, is an example of the progress that has been made in the city in recent years

Qing Cong Quan Autism Center founder Chen Jie working with a student.In a bright blue schoolroom in Changning District, a handful of kids are carrying on as kids do -- loudly. One runs the length of the room, another dunks foam basketballs and another whizzes down a slide. 

It’s an ordinary playtime except for one thing -- all the children have autism.

A new calling

Qing Cong Quan Autism Center (QCQ) is one of seven Shanghai schools dedicated to educating autistic children. 

There are 10,000 autistic children in Shanghai, according to the Autism Children Foundation. 

Despite the high numbers, few public Shanghai schools in the city accept children with autism. 

Like many educators, Chen Jie knew little about autism. In fact, when QCQ opened its doors in 2004, it was a regular preschool.

That year, a father approached Chen Jie asking if she would enroll his autistic son. At the time Shanghai had no autism schools, and no one else would admit the child.

Chen Jie agreed, and word spread as more and more parents came with their autistic children.

It seemed that Chen Jie’s calling had found her. Within a few months, QCQ officially became a Chinese NGO and school for autistic children.

Apt pupils

QCQ accepts children from ages two to eight.

Qing Cong Quan Autism Center (QCQ) is one of seven Shanghai schools dedicated to educating autistic children.

“[Starting] under six is very important,” says Chen Jie. “They can make great progress if you start early.” 

Some children cannot speak when they arrive and have little experience with the outside world. Teachers help kids develop an awareness of their surroundings, increase their mobility through physical therapy, and build their language and communication skills. 

Working with the children requires patient and dedicated teachers.

"Seeing the changes in kids is rewarding, but it comes slowly,” says Ding Lan, a teacher at QCQ. “They don’t initially respond. They need time." 

Raising awareness

Since the Chinese government recognized the disorder in 2006, knowledge about autism has grown, but public awareness continues to be spotty. Chen Jie and her staff focus on educating not only children, but also parents across China and the local community.

“We grab every opportunity to tell people what autism is and invite them to come see,” says Chen Jie.

Families of autistic children do still face social stigmas. Often one parent must quit their job to stay home with their child, adding financial pressures.

Qing Cong Quan Autism Center (QCQ)A teacher at Qing Cong Quan Autism Center helps an autism student with physical therapy.

The QCQ staff helps parents deal with the huge learning curve that come from having a special needs child and teaches parents how to help their kids develop. 

Chen Jie explains, “We never say the kids lack care, but that they need training.” That is something often lacking outside of QCQ. 

Bigger and better 

QCQ’s capacity is small at only 35 students, but the length of their waiting list is proof that their methods work. In the past six years, the center has taught 200 students and seen 70 of them admitted into public schools.

In September, the center is moving to a larger facility where they can gradually increase enrollment to 60 kids and expand their services. 

While the numbers may be small, Chen Jie says, “The numbers are not the most important thing, but what we can provide for the children.” 

Qing Cong Quan Autism Center, www.qingcongquan.org.cn, qingcongquan@yahoo.cn. For Engish-speaking volunteer contact Hands on Shanghai, for Chinese speakers, contact Qing Cong Quan Autism Center directly via email.