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April 3, 2024

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Support groups play key role to help autism community families

Hu Xiaohua can often be found glued to her phone, exchanging suggestions and words of encouragement with other parents of children with autism.

Hu, now 45, was working at a cartoon company when her son was diagnosed with autism in 2014. Motivated to support him fully, she altered her career path and is today head of the Chunyu parents’ support center in Hefei, capital of east China’s Anhui Province.

“Before, I knew nothing about autism,” Hu said. “My son was adorable. I thought he was just a bit slower learning to talk than other children.”

She said it was a difficult time for her, and that she could often be moved to tears when she spoke about her son.

During a trip to Guangdong Province in south China, she heard about the One Foundation, a non-government organization with programs for autism. She also learned about a parents’ support project that the foundation sponsored. “Each parent is isolated. But if I could connect with other families, I knew I could be stronger when facing my own difficulties. We could help and encourage one another.”

Inspired, Hu and several other parents of children with autism established a small support group in 2015. And with the support of the One Foundation, they founded the Chunyu parents’ support center four years later.

The center also connects parents with a team of professional psychologists and lawyers, helping them enroll their children in schools and providing vocational training and internship opportunities for the children when they grow up.

The One Foundation has aided many such organizations across China. By the end of 2023, it had collaborated with more than 600 social organizations.

According to Ren Shaopeng, who leads the autism project in the foundation, many Chinese families with autistic members still face challenges in many areas. A report on autism education showed that in 2019, there were more than 10 million people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in China, which means a huge number of families face these challenges.

“In many cases, parents of autistic children devote considerable energy and resources to child care, but their social needs go beyond their children,” he said. “We are vigorously investing in supporting parents’ growth, and encouraging them to help and influence one another.”

Feng Dong is among the great number of parents who have received support from the project. Ruirui, his daughter, was 3 in 2005 when her teacher told Feng she might have autism.

Like Hu, Feng had been unconcerned about any difference between his daughter and other children. Later, Feng and his wife realized that Ruirui had been late learning to walk independently, doing so at 21 months. Feng gradually realized that avoiding the issue was useless. He began reading books about autism and working to help his daughter.

In December 2012, the Ningbo Xingbao autism family support center was established. Ruirui has been attending the center since she graduated from a vocational high school, which she and her dad refer to as a “social university.”


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