Thursday, January 20, 2011

Being Autistic in China, with a nod to Amy Chua

Everyone's been talking about Amy Chua and Chinese vs American parenting.  When I read her description of Chinese-style mothering - drilling academics through repetition, limiting opportunities for social development - one of my first thoughts was that China would be the perfect place to grow up with autism. What autistic kid wouldn't thrive in a society that values routine and order over playground skills?

So I did a little reading, and my hypothesis fell flat.

In China, autism, or "the loneliness disease," has been recognized as a disability since 2006. In a nation of over a billion people, there are only 100 doctors specializing in autism. Children with autism and other "abnormalities" are not allowed to attend public schools. There are a handful of special education facilities in major cities, but none in rural China, so most kids on the spectrum must be home schooled by parents who have little understanding of autism, and little access to the wealth of information available to the rest of the world on the internet. Parent training programs are expensive and have a year-long waiting list to enroll; special schools can have a two-year waiting list.

There is great shame attached to having an "abnormal" child in China. Such a child is considered unable to contribute to society, unable to care for his parents in their old age. And because they are considered burdens from early childhood, most individuals with autism never get the opportunity to develop to their full potential and become productive, valued citizens.

I am so grateful for the opportunities that my child will have because he had the providence to be born in the United States in an era of relatively-high understanding of autism spectrum disorders and the social value of people with autism.  And I pray for the future of kids like mine around the world.

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