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Early detection drops special school enrollments

By HU MEIDONG in Fuzhou and WANG XIAOYU | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-02 10:08

When Putian Special Education School opened its doors to enrollment for the school year last autumn, there were no first-grade students for the first time in the school's history.

For the majority of schools, no new first-graders is not a good sign, but for Putian Special Education School, this is great news. The school provides education for a range of children with special requirements, such as those that are hearing or vision impaired.

According to the school's president, Wu Jinsong, having no new students for the first grade for the first time can be attributed to the great developments that have been made in the ability to detect infants' medical needs increasingly earlier in order to prevent further damage and provide care and treatment as early as possible.

For certain conditions, early detection and treatment can prevent irreversible damage later on, not to mention considerable financial costs.

For example, in the past, a number of families had missed the window of opportunity to get surgery for their children before they reached the age of 6, a key time for children's growth, and as a result, incurred hefty costs.

There are fewer children with special needs in Putian because strengthened efforts have been devoted to providing rehabilitation services and subsidies for children aged 17 and under who have conditions such as hearing impairment, city officials said.

Huang Weiguo, an official at the city's disabled persons' federation, said that by screening the hearing of newborns and fitting those born with hearing loss with cochlear implants and offering them adequate rehabilitation, most hearing-impaired kids are able to learn to listen and speak, and receive regular education as a result.

"From 2019 to 2021, Putian issued subsidies for about 240 hearing-impaired children, and waived the costs for 16 children that underwent surgeries for cochlear implants," he said.

Wu said Putian Special Education School enrolled 10 new students with hearing loss in 2015, and the average number of new enrollments with similar conditions remained at around seven in the following years.

"Given the falling number of hearing-impaired kids, our main focus as a school is beginning to swing more toward education for children with autism," he said.

For teachers, the shift means that as well as using sign language and Braille to communicate with students, they also need to develop skills related to behavioral modification and special social interaction.

"We are also exploring how to help autistic children blend into regular schools," he said.

Cai Liping has been teaching children with hearing loss for nearly three decades and has waved off many happy graduates. "As a teacher at a special education school, there is no end to learning," she said. "We hope that these children can receive more attention and warmth from society."

Chen Yujie, a 20-year-old graduate from the school, applied for an advertising and art design major at Fujian Vocational College of Art in Fuzhou, the provincial capital.

What she gained at the school at a young age has fueled her desire to become a teacher in the future.

"When I was in the second grade, I saw children like me dance in class and thought what a miracle it was for deaf people to dance to music," she said.

Chen said teachers at the school encouraged her to overcome difficulties and follow her passions. She was later invited to perform on television and at festivals.

"I want to learn all kinds of skills to become a great teacher in the future, and make the world of deafness and sound connect more smoothly," she said.

Yang Jie contributed to this story.

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