The government should establish specialized day care centers for adults with autism — who rely heavily on family members throughout their lives — to alleviate their parents’ burden.
After completing compulsory education at around age 16, most autistic people return to their families, as they cannot find suitable jobs, according to some legislators who discussed the matter during the second session of the 13th National People’s Congress, which concluded last week.
Fewer than 1 in 10 autistic adults are employed, according to the Blue Papers on the Needs of Parents with Autistic Children in China published by Huaxia Publishing House in 2016.
“Many families are having trouble taking care of their autistic children around the clock for decades, many of whom can’t communicate and cannot go out alone,” said Feng Fan, a national lawmaker and the vice-chair of the Jiangxi Provincial Lawyers Association, who has communicated with dozens of families with autistic children — mostly in their 20s and 30s — in Nanchang, Jiangxi province; Foshan, Guangdong province; Xiamen, Fujian province; and in Shanghai, since last year.
The situation gets worse when parents enter old age, she said.
“One family I talked to had two children, both with autism. The parents shoulder colossal pressure physically and mentally and are worried how the children will survive after they pass away,” Feng said, adding that the incidence of autism is higher than most people think.
Four in every 1,000 children aged 6 to 12 in China have autism, according to the first national epidemiological investigation on autism spectrum disorder led by Children’s Hospital at Fudan University in Shanghai in 2015.
Symptoms include differences and disabilities in many areas, including social communication skills, motor skills and sometimes intellectual skills, as well as unusual responses to sensory input such as unusual sensitivity to light and sound.
Liu Xiaobing, a national legislator and dean of the School of Public Economics and Administration at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, said most parents of autistic children cannot strike a balance between work and home care, and many are exhausted and some even become depressed.
“The proportion of couples with an autistic child who finally break up is high. If a single mother or father has to take care of such a child while working, the situation is really desperate,” he said.
Both Feng and Liu said the government should support autistic people to ensure their basic quality of life and to relieve their parents.
Liu suggested that such care centers be opened at the local level, so families can participate from time to time as volunteers.
Feng said that the government should also be encouraged to provide some jobs for autistic adults who are capable of doing some work, such as sorting mail at a post office, baking, or picking tea, as they usually prefer repetitive tasks.