More children are being diagnosed with autism, prompting the establishment of a new research center in Shanghai and more efforts to detect the disorder in infants. Wang Hongyi reports in Shanghai.
More children are being diagnosed with autism, prompting the establishment of a new research center in Shanghai and more efforts to detect the disorder in infants.
The “children of the stars”, as autistic people are called inChina, live with slow language development, an unwillingness to communicate and narrow interest ranges.
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects normal brain function. It usually emerges in the first three years of life.
The number of children with autism has been rising in recent years, drawing more attention to the condition, according to Du Yasong, a professor at Shanghai Mental Health Center, who is also an expert on autism. Du and his peers are still trying to determine why the numbers are up.
“There are not sufficient psychological counselors and professional medical staff for rehabilitation training for children. Much work needs to be done,” Du says.
Shanghai’s Fudan University Autism Treatment and Clinical Research Center will establish the country’s largest research network for identifying autism in children and treating it.
The center will carry out a large epidemiological study among 120,000 autistic children aged between 6 and 12 by teaming up with universities and medical bodies from eight provinces.
Under the three-year project, about 1,200 biological samples from autistic children will be collected to study the incidence of the disease and the factors causing it in China. Experts estimate that one in 100 children are being diagnosed with an autism, far higher than other diseases, such as cancer (1/1,500) and diabetes (1/500). In developed countries, about one in 110 children are diagnosed with autism.
“There has not yet been a largescale epidemiologic investigation of the disease, but data from Guangzhou, Tianjin and some places show that about one in 120 children are diagnosed with the disease,” says Wang Yi, vice-president of Shanghai Children’s Hospital of Fudan University where the research center is located.
The World Health Organization has estimated at least 1 million children are living with autism in China. “Autism has different clinical symptoms, and the cause of the disease is quite complicated. It may be jointly influenced by multiple genes and the environment,” she says.
“Currently, we don’t have more understanding of its mechanism,” she says, adding that some studies show the older the father, the higher the possibility for the children be diagnosed with autism.
In China, however, parents have a lack of awareness about the disease. According to a study by Beijing health authorities, it takes about four yearsbetweenachildshowingsymptoms of autism to final diagnosis, by which time doctors have missed the best time for intervention.“Parents pay a lot of attention to their children, but it’s really difficult to diagnose the disease at the early stage. On the other hand, some parents also mistakenly think that their children were just a slow talker, which makes their condition deteriorate further,” says Du.
Experts stress that early detection and intervention will produce good results in children with autism. It’s very possible for an 18-month-old patient to lead a normal life after intervention.
“What children with autism need most is rehabilitation training. Well-trained children can have a certain self-care ability,” Du says. “But many children face difficulties when put into normal schools.”The absence of a standard for diagnosis and regimen, and a lack of qualified medical staff, have posed great challenges in carrying out broader intervention and treatment of the disease.
In 2012, the country had fewer than 10 hospitals specializing in treating autism.
According to the Fudan University Autism Treatment and Clinical Research Center, a training program has already started. Under the plan, 100 community doctors, 100 primary school teachers and 50 special education teachers from eight provinces will receive professional training in early autism screening and intervention work.In addition to carrying out early detection and intervention work in children at the age of 18 months, the center will also work out clinical pathways, diagnosis and treatment standards and guidance on autism.
Haidian Modern Kindergarten is one of the institutes in Beijing providing care and help for children with autism.
Beijing's Kangnazhou center provides baking course for the youngsters.
Training courses in Kangnazhou include basic computer skills.