Medical workers help an autistic boy do rehabilitation exercises at the People's Hospital in Hainan province. [Photo: China Daily]
More needs to be done to help people suffering from autism and to identify the disorder earlier, an expert said on Tuesday.
There are currently more than 1 million autistic people in China, 100,000 of whom are under the age of 6.
Sun Dunke, deputy director of the Beijing Rehabilitation Association for Autistic Children (BRAAC), said Tuesday - the first World Autism Day - that of all the Chinese children suffering from mental disorders, 78 percent are autistic.
Many of them miss the optimal treatment window because of inadequate institutions, insufficient finances and parental ignorance, he said.
Boys are four times more likely than girls to have the lifelong disorder, which makes it difficult for them to communicate and live normal lives.
Scientists are still not certain of its causes. Some argue it is genetic, while others assert it is environmental.
Because autistic children are often unresponsive, they are sometimes incorrectly believed to be "dumb", Sun said.
Some parents don't take any action, because they believe "the grandest speak later".
"For intervention to be effective, it must take place before a child reaches age 4," Yang Xiaoling, a public health professor with Peking University, said.
"The foremost goal is helping them become independent and confident."
Most autistic people spend all of their time at home, where they are insulated, Sun said, adding this is the case for his 20-year-old grandson.
"To raise awareness and counter prejudice against people with autism and their parents is the most important goal," he said.
But parents should be careful when selecting rehabilitation centers for their children, he said.
"There are no official rules in place to approve these centers' admittances or supervise their operations."
Of the 100 privately owned centers for autistic children in China, several are operated as businesses and purely for profit, he said.