Autism ris­ing

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.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Contact the writer at wanghongyi@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

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.

PHO­TOS BY ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY

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.

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