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China is in dire need of professionals to diagnose and train an increasing number of autistic children, experts said.
"Autistic children who receive early treatment tend to relate better to others and assimilate well with society. However, due to a lack of professionals, many children miss the best time for treatment and lose their chances of recovery forever," said Zhang Haidi, chairwoman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation.
The government must increase funding and policy support for autism service organizations, train more professionals and grasp the best treatment period for autistic children, she said.
Around the world, the number of children diagnosed with autism is increasing rapidly. National data is not yet available, but Wen Hong, secretary-general of the China Association of Persons with Psychiatric Disability and Their Relatives, estimated that the number is at least 1.5 million to 2 million.
However, experts say the number could be significantly greater due to poor diagnostic skills and lack of diagnosis.
The number of trained professionals to serve those with autism is still significantly limited - nationally there are only 100 professionals qualified to conduct official diagnoses.
"China has only about 400 autism service organizations, among which small, private ones account for more than 70 percent," Wen said.
The large organizations have 30 or 40 teachers at most, and in small ones seven or eight teachers are common.
The majority of those organizations advertise year-round for teachers.
Even within such a small group, the quality of teaching is also worrying, as only a small number of teachers have special education certificates, according to Guo Dehua, director of the Jiangxi Provincial Autistic Children Rehabilitation Center.
Only a handful of universities and colleges in China train teachers to deal with autistic students.
"It's time for the government to speed up the pace to establish more classes about autism in colleges and medical universities to cultivate more professionals," said Han Xiaoyan, director of the Autistic Children Rehabilitation Training and Research Base of the Sixth Hospital of Peking University.
"Autistic children's rehabilitation cannot fully depend on autism service organizations. They need the cooperation of the entire society," said Han Jibin, an official with the China Disabled Persons' Federation.
"Cultivating professionals is a systematic project, it cannot be done overnight. Our first move is to train 2,500 professionals to conduct official diagnoses within three years," he said.
In addition, teachers of autistic students are not well paid, so many of them seek jobs in other industries after working as teachers for some time.
"The best way to retain them is to increase their salaries and welfare, and we hope the government could give some financial support to us," said Lan Xiaosong, deputy director of the Qingdao Shengzhiai Rehabilitation Center.