Currently, there is no systematic process to coordinate the identification, treatment, and education of young children with disabilities in China. Typically, professionals in the fields of medicine, rehabilitation, special education, and regular education work independently with little to no cross-discipline collaboration. This situation is somewhat akin to the Chinese tale about the blind men feeling the elephant, and mistaking each single part for the whole. In this case, it is the comprehensive understanding of the whole child that is lost.
The good news is that Shanghai Children’s Medical (SCMC) is trying to change this state of affairs. Under the leadership of developmental pediatricians Zhang Yi Wen, MD, and Jiang Fan, MD, SCMC is collaborating with public preschools throughout Pudong District (Shanghai) to pilot a system of early identification for children suspected of autism and other developmental delays. These doctors truly “get it.” While they know that children with severe disabilities usually find placements in China’s special education schools, they are also cognizant of the reality that there are many children with mild to moderate impairments who are not formally diagnosed and who struggle in regular education settings. Moreover, these health care professionals understand that regular education teachers and parents need training and support in order to raise and educate children who have extra challenges.
Olivia’s Place has been lending a hand to SCMC’s laudable endeavors by providing technical assistance and training related to autism assessment, as well as participating in the first round of assessments. And, now that the channels of communication between the doctors and the educators have been opened, it is clear that there is more need and more desire for collaboration that will benefit Shanghai’s children.
SCMC is currently developing a series of parent and teacher trainings on topics that affect the lives of children on the autism spectrum. Olivia’s Place therapists may have a chance to play a meaningful role in the second phase of this project as well, by delivering trainings on topics in which they have expertise, such as positive behavior support, sensory processing motor planning, and effective instruction. We are excited to join hands with the compassionate physicians at SCMC and the motivated administrators in Pudong’s public preschools so that we can support their efforts to reach out to Shanghai’s children.