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Evolving attitudes toward special education Growing numbers of government authorities, schools and families in China are recognizing the need for more effective treatments and lifelong opportunities for children with special needs. TEXT: Andrew Hill, andrew.hill@chinaelg.com PHOTO: Essential Learning Group

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ince the 1980s, public opinion about people with disabilities has changed considerably in China. Children with disabilities were often abandoned or kept hidden from the public eye. But attitudes are evolving

and networks of support are growing. Driving forces behind the change include social media and awareness campaigns. People are sharing their stories and spreading the word – there is a more general understanding now of special needs and differences of services people need. I am reminded of the

Chinese mother of a boy at our Innovative Learning Centre (ILC) who was recently diagnosed with autism. She posted about the diagnosis on her WeChat and said what a relief it was to her – understanding her son’s needs enabled her to help him. This type of public declaration of having a child with special needs would have been unheard of in the past (although it is still brave of her to have done it now!). More and more Chinese families are reaching out for help from the Essential Learning Group (ELG). Nearly half of our more than 400 clients are Chinese and most enquiries are from Chinese families. Parents are recognising that Children with special needs get training at the Essential Learning Group in Shanghai.

Andrew Hill is a co-founder and director at the Essential Learning Group (ELG), Shanghai, and is actively involved in its management, operations and business development. ELG is an organisation that provides tailored resources for children with special needs to develop and learn effectively. ELG’s clinic services support over 400 children annually, offering therapists for behavioural, developmental and mental health needs. ELG’s Innovative Learning Centre (ILC) provides day programmes for children with exceptional needs who cannot successfully access the curriculum of a regular school environment or who require early intervention. Hill is also president of the Rotary Club of Shanghai and chairman of Xiersen, ELG’s sister NGO.

Individuals with special needs deserve a chance to learn, work and live independently.” children with special needs are capable, valuable members of the family and greater community, and are actively seeking ways to help them participate in and contribute to society. ELG’s story is one of transformation in Shanghai’s special education field. Dr Shari Rosen, ELG co-founder, programme director, and speech-language pathologist, was once the only international specialist in the city. She provided training at a paediatric clinic that diagnosed autistic children from all over China, but she was frustrated that there was no way to treat them. Besides autism, there was also little to no awareness at the time about how to effectively diagnose and manage a whole range of disabilities. The feeling was that if a child could walk, eat and be safe, not much more could be done for them. Shari and her husband, Monte, started making plans for how to help these children. I met them at the concept stage and we garnered support from educators, experts in business licensing, and many others. We went on to set up Shanghai’s first and most

successful special education centre, hiring a director and a couple of therapists and staff. Now we have a team of around 25 specialists in a variety of therapeutic backgrounds. Shari’s determination, relentless hard work and unwavering belief that all children can thrive with the right resources has led the way for special education in Shanghai. Both local and international schools are increasingly contacting us to provide services for their students and parents. They recognise the importance of services such as mental healthcare, parenting support, and screening younger students for developmental issues that can be targeted early on. It is very encouraging to not only see schools responding to this need, but also governments, including here in China. Chinese authorities are also furthering understanding of special-education concerns. In February, new initiatives were released, requiring local governments to give funding and resources to special education; to mandate teacher training; and requiring that schools develop individualised educational plans for students with disabilities. Another recent regulation stipulates that students with disabilities be given special accommodation when taking the gaokao, China’s college admission exam. The challenge remains, however, of how to implement the changes in an effective and widereaching way. Fundamental discrimination persists when specially trained teachers are in short supply,

Both local and international schools are increasingly contacting us to provide services for their students and parents.” 6 DRAGONNEWS • NO.02/2017

and when students with certain disabilities are blocked from mainstream schools. And for those who are admitted into “regular” classrooms, it’s widely reported they don’t receive adequate support and accommodation. Beyond high school, individuals with special needs face even more roadblocks. They struggle with college admissions and may encounter discrimination in the workplace – or more often – are not hired at all. More non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in China are helping to fill in the gaps, such as ELG’s sister NGO, Xiersen. The Xiersen Careers in Care 2.0 programme supports special education instruction in China by training local people to be paraprofessionals. The goal is to build a skilled workforce of caregivers who can be hired to work with special needs students in the classroom. Corporations and professional organisations are also doing their part to support children with special needs. Gap Greater China recently donated the proceeds from navy and yellow striped “AWare sleeves” to one of Xiersen’s core initiatives, teacher and parent education. In partnership with Gap and the Pudong Special Education School, we hosted over 100 special needs children and their families for a fun day of activities. Rotaract, the youth division of The Rotary Club, raised funds for Autism Awareness with its Run in Blue 2016 charity run. For their most recent Run in Blue race on 6 May, 2017, funds were dedicated to the Careers in Care 2.0 project. I feel hopeful for the future of special education in China. Local awareness is growing, and ELG is striving to hire more returning bilingual specialists, who will have a significant positive impact on the quality of life and access to long-term opportunities for children with special needs. But we are still in the early stages of change. We need to continue to educate the public and advocate at all levels for greater support. Individuals with special needs deserve a chance to learn, work and live independently. b DRAGONNEWS • NO.02/2017 7

Dragon News - No.2, 2017  

Dragon News is a member magazine, published by the Editorial Committees of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and the Swedish Cham...

Dragon News - No.2, 2017  

Dragon News is a member magazine, published by the Editorial Committees of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and the Swedish Cham...