Autism Rehab Center Under Fire After Videos of Abuse Surface
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2017-08-14 12:49:41

Police in Beijing are investigating an autism rehabilitation center after videos exposed teachers abusing children attending the facility, China National Radio (CNR) reported Sunday.

Surveillance camera footage from the Senxi Education Group shows teachers mistreating several children with mild autism, a mental disorder, at their rehab center in the capital. The videos released online this month by parents showed in detail how the children were tied, dragged, beaten, and made to do exercise by the teachers.

The rehabilitation center agreed to release the videos after repeated complaints from parents. A woman surnamed Zhang was among those who pressed Senxi after seeing bruises on her son last month. “It looks like his feet were bound,” Zhang told CNR. “His left ankle is injured more severely, and it had scabs.”

Autism, officially known as “autism spectrum disorder,” is a developmental condition that affects more than 10 million people in China. However, there is still little understanding of the condition, and many parents are left seeking alternative solutions, often ending up at high-priced private institutions like Senxi, which claims to treat “fake autism” and charges up to 14,000 yuan a month.

The institution claims to have coined the phrase “fake autism” to describe children with development disorders. Its website also asserts that more than 90 percent of children diagnosed with autism in China have “fake autism,” and encourages parents all over China to send their children to Beijing for treatment.

In April, the group’s co-founder, Liu Yu, also affirmed on national television that her center pioneered the “gold standard” now used by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule in China to diagnose and assess autism. But following media reports of abuse, the center’s website has become inaccessible, and the company couldn’t be reached for a comment.

Yang Wenhan, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, told Sixth Tone that only licensed psychiatrists, not rehabilitation centers, are qualified to diagnose autism or any other developmental disorders. He also suggested that children with mild autism do not require intensive treatment, and that centers like Senxi are only profiting from concerned parents.

“We are in a tricky position,” Yang said. “It’s good that there are organizations providing service for children with autism, but you can hardly expect staff with expertise in most of these institutes, many of which we have seen are unprofessional.”

Currently, experts estimate that there are more than 1,000 private institutions across China specializing in educating children with autism. However, the majority are run by people with little or limited experience.

Last year, the death of a 3-year-old boy at an autism rehabilitation center run by a self-taught medical practitioner prompted debate on the continued operation of such facilities. The day before his death, Jia Jia was forced to walk 20 kilometers in temperatures of 27 degrees Celsius in southern China.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: An autistic child plays with a small pile of sawdust at a rehabilitation center in Tai’an, Shandong province, March 30, 2016. VCG)