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Working with autism

By Wu Ni | China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-08 14:21

A 21-year-old autistic man has gained employment in Shanghai Library - the first person with the disorder to do so. Wu Ni finds out his progress.

Wearing the blue uniform of Shanghai Library, Gu Jiandong sorts magazines and books and put them on the shelves. He looks no different from other workers, except for his overly serious concentration and quiet demeanor.

The 21-year-old man is Shanghai's first autism sufferer who officially gained a job to work in the library's books lending department on Sept 12, after interning for a whole year in the position.

"I am happy", "I put books on the shelf", "I give my salary to my father", were his replies when asked some simple questions.

Working with autism

Gu Jiandong arranges books at Shanghai Library. The 21-year-old is Shanghai's first autism sufferer who officially gained a job to work in the library's books lending department in September. Gao Erqiang / China Daily

"He has made great improvement over the past year," says Chen Xiangyu, one of Gu's eight colleagues in the department.

"When he first came here, he only walked around, ignored readers' inquiries and could not focus on his work.

Working with autism

"We taught him the working procedure repeatedly. After he became familiar with the working environment, he was able to fulfill the work assigned to him smoothly."

Now, Gu is able to take the subway to and from work independently, eats in the library canteen with colleagues, and sends short messages to communicate with his parents. His colleagues continue to look after him, but in a more relaxed manner.

Gu works four days a week in the library with a monthly salary of 1,620 yuan ($265), which is the city's minimum wage. For two days every week, he works part-time in a sporting goods supermarket.

The young man now knows the concept of money, says his mother Zhang Minyan. "He would ask his father whether the salary has been paid, and knows he can not afford things that are too expensive. Before, he never looked at the prices."

"I don't care how much he can make. I just want him to have the chance to integrate into society," Zhang says. "If we let him stay at home, taking care of his every detail, he won't make any improvement and his life will be like being in a cage."

Gu was diagnosed with autism when he was 3.

Over the years, Zhang has made every effort to engage her son with various activities. She found the boy has the talent to play the drums and helped him form a drum band together with three autistic children. She taught the boy to play ping-pong to train him to focus, asked him to sing and perform before an audience whenever he had a chance and organized basketball games for autistic children to play together.

Gu studied in ordinary primary and middle schools, thanks to a policy by the city's education authorities that public schools should never say no to autistic children. He also learned baking in a special education school.

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