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Dalian teacher devotes life to autistic kids

By ZHANG XIAOMIN in Dalian, Liaoning | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-14 09:29
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A fund initiated by Cheng Yuzhu (second from left in front row) and the Dalian Youth Development Foundation is launched on June 1, 2022. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Cheng Yuzhu has been helping special needs children since childhood

Many autistic children are not willing or able to communicate with others. But Cheng Yuzhu, founder of a special children's service center in Dalian, Liaoning province, seems to have the magic touch when it comes to such children, as they appear to open up to her when they see her.

Cheng, 39, has been involved in special education for more than 20 years. She began studying at a special education teachers college in Changchun, Jilin province, in 2000. After graduating, she became a teacher at a kindergarten in Dalian.

"One child changed my life's trajectory," she said. "At that time, his parents were not aware of his situation, but I figured out he was autistic based on his daily behavior."

With permission from the boy's parents and the principal of the kindergarten, Cheng began conducting early intervention rehabilitation training for the child. Three years later, he graduated from the kindergarten along with all the other children.

As she witnessed the child successfully integrate into mainstream education, she decided to dedicate herself to special education.

Cheng's exceptional skills and devotion to the children have earned her the trust of parents and colleagues alike.

"Some parents had tried several institutions with no results, but after a few classes with Cheng, their children started speaking. It was truly miraculous," one of her colleagues, Sun Aihua, recalled.

With more parents sending their autistic children to the kindergarten for early intervention rehabilitation training, Cheng gradually became a full-time special education teacher.

After receiving strong encouragement from parents, Cheng founded the Dalian Dongxin Special Children's Service Center in August 2016.

The center has since provided rehabilitation education and training for over 600 autistic children, offering a comprehensive range of services including speech correction, sensory integration, skills training, and cultural and artistic enrichment programs.

The center now has four campuses — two in Ganjingzi district, one in Shahekou district and one in Wafangdian.

Inspired by Cheng's efforts, seven other special agencies have opened in Wafangdian since 2017, accommodating more than 200 children.

Children receiving rehabilitation assistance at qualified designated agencies in Dalian can receive government subsidies, Cheng said. Those under 7 years old can get 2,000 yuan ($278) every month, while those ranging from 8 to 16, can get 1,200 yuan.

"The number of disabled children enjoying rehabilitation assistance subsidies in Dalian has risen from 490 in 2016 to 2,500 this year. With such subsidies, the financial burden on their parents is greatly reduced," she said.

Cheng became a Ganjingzi district political adviser in 2021. She has submitted proposals to improve accessibility in public spaces, advocating for the rights of disabled children to be safeguarded.

Her passion for helping children with special needs began when she herself was a child.

Growing up in a rural area of Jilin province, she was motivated by her father, who often did good deeds and helped others. When a neighbor's child with cerebral palsy was bullied by others, she stood up for the child and even let the child borrow her tricycle.

Her parents later went to Dalian to start a small business, and she enrolled in a local primary school. A student with a physical disability was transferred to her class. The teacher guided students to help their new classmate, and they got along well.

"As a child, I found happiness in helping others. This sense of fulfillment and the ability to make a difference in someone's life stayed with me," Cheng said.

Cheng is not only a teacher, but also a loving volunteer. Not only does she provide care and education, but she also offers her home as a temporary place for autistic children to stay when their parents have emergencies or special circumstances. Her daughter, now 14, has grown accustomed to interacting with special needs children.

"Some children might destroy her things, so she also has grievances, but overall she's been good with them — except once, when we took an 8-year-old boy to a restaurant for dinner," Cheng said.

As Cheng was helping him remove tiny bones from a fish he was eating, the boy grew impatient and slapped Cheng hard in the face. Her daughter became angry and began crying and questioning the boy.

"The child was predisposed to violence, hitting others and sometimes harming himself. In this case, anger was useless. I had to calm the little boy first before comforting my daughter," Cheng recalled.

Her altruism extends beyond her work. She has been an active volunteer with the Dalian Charity Federation for many years, participating in various public service activities.

Her dedication to philanthropy has led her to donate over 100,000 yuan over the past two decades, establishing two funds aimed at supporting disabled youth through the Dalian Youth Development Foundation.

Cheng always takes her daughter to participate in public welfare activities.

"The virtue of helping others that I inherited from my father should be passed on to my daughter," she said.

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