This is a continued feature multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people there. To read part 10, click here.
The next day we left the jungle, flying over the region’s uniquely Chinese mountains, the beloved Li River and acres of brilliant green rice fields. China is a country of towns that are increasingly becoming connected by an infrastructure of new roads. They also continue to make full use of their water and canal systems and have good airline service, so the movement of goods and people is becoming more inclusive of rural areas. Towns of over 1 million people are common and will likely become even more universal as China develops industry throughout the nation and urbanizes. With a recent revolution in technological connectivity – people who could not afford landlines now all have cell phones – the Chinese are developing communication and transportation networks that previous generations could never have imagined.
We arrived in Shanghai and checked into the historic Jin J’iang Hotel, which is an oasis in the middle of the insanely fast pace of the streets of the French Concession. The Jin J’iang is the hotel where Chairman Mao used to regularly meet with his National Assembly and where Deng Xiaoping first met with Nixon in 1978 to begin to open China’s window on the West. That window is now a door and wide open for business, as reflected by the growing, towering skyline of “New Shanghai”, across the river facing the old historic Bund. Comprised of old, small classical Western buildings overlooking the Huanpu River (a busy tributary of the Yangtze), compared to New Shanghai, the famous Bund looks simply quaint. Having been a busy international city in past years, Shanghai takes pride in its historical Western architecture and has some of the best examples of Art Deco structures in the world. One of them is the Jin J’iang and another is the Shanghai Garden across the street. Down the road is the Art Deco Lyceum where we saw the Shangai Acrobatic troupe, who incorporated Asian themes into very modern dance routines. The contortions of some of the acrobats left most of the physicians in our group fearing for the future physical condition of the performers in terms of arthritis and other chronic problems.
The next day we met with professionals from the East China Normal University (ECNU), including Yang Guangxue, Dean, Professor and Supervisor of the PhD program, Nan Li Zhou, PhD, Associate Professor and Lianjun Chen, Assistant to the President of the East China Normal University Graduate’s Union. Founded in 1951 (only one year earlier than DDA), ECNU was founded on the site of Great China University when it amalgamated with Fudan and Tongji Universities. It is now one of the key institutions of higher learning under the auspicies of the Ministry of Education. Influential in China and abroad, the university has 15 full-time schools including the newest – the College of Preschool Education and Special Education, which has 78 full time faculty who provide education for over 1,000 students. The college has recently established several research labs and is encouraging provincial and national research. The college has also established relationships with universities in the U.S., Britain, Germany, Australia, Canada, Singapore and Japan.
There are three doctoral programs within the school: speech, early learning and special education. There is also a special program focused on autism. Nian Li Zhou had recently completed a research project on autism and kindly led us through a presentation of her results. The researchers developed their own tool for early diagnosis and intervention where they used interviews, observation and psychological testing in order to classify the severity of the childrens’ challenges.
The research study followed 55 kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder aged 32 to 72 months and classified them into low, medium or high severity based on frequency and intensity of body language, emotional language and verbal language. It was also curiously noted during the study that, when asked to draw pictures of their families or themselves, none of the children with autism ever drew ears. For the low severity group, language was present so they focused on reciprocity of language. For the medium severity group, the focus was on language use, and for the high severity group where all the children were non-verbal, they focused on comprehension. Their research proved that it was valid to teach children with different levels of autism separately, with a more specific focus. 80% of their subjects with autism also had I.Q.’s under 70.
After special pre-schools, children with disabilities generally move on to either segregated or integrated schools, then on to vocational training schools – what we would call day programs – for people aged 16 – 35. Children who have more severe, physical or multiple disabilities usually do not attend school but are cared for at home by their families. Residentially, adults with developmental disabilities who cannot live with their families can live in apartments built for seniors, the homeless and those who require special care. Some care facilities have user fees. Otherwise, some in-home services are available, but these are extremely limited. There are also orphanages in China.
All teachers receive 20 hours of training about children with developmental disabilities and some can further specialize. Cross-discipline cooperation is as difficult to maintain in the People’s Republic as it is in B.C. Shanghai developed a coordinating board so hospitals, schools, universities and the Disabled Person’s Federation could work together. Special Education and Early Childhood Development are very new in China but together they are learning that a focus on education alone is not effective, so they have to develop a multidisciplinary approach with an additional focus on mental health, communication and socialization. They are not as far behind us as they might believe since it is precisely this type of multidisciplinary approach that we are just starting to develop in B.C. In order to further cooperation, the Vice Mayor of Shanghai proposed that other associated professionals become part of the education system because it is currently the strongest, with clinics already available at some schools. Every district has resource teachers, but students in special schools are usually the most vulnerable to funding cuts, which sounded strikingly familiar.
In China, ideology rarely trumps effectiveness, so they are enthusiastic researchers. A 7-year study indicated that the best system provided options for children from full segregation in special schools to full inclusion, with most children doing best when they were included in typical schools but had special needs classes within the school. As with all students, parents will hire tutors and aides for their children in order to accelerate learning if they have the money.
The faculty and researchers at the East China Normal University were very impressive. We hope to see Dr. Yang Guangxue when he visits Vancouver in the near future and show off what we have accomplished during our 57 year history.