World / Reporter's Journal

World Autism Day brings out a range of attitudes

By Chang Jun ( Updated: 2016-04-05 11:23

What do you have heart for?

On World Autism Awareness Day, which fell on April 2, mine was heavy as I got a glimpse of what a long road ahead those who live within the autism spectrum in China have to be accepted for who they are and be able to live a life free from discrimination.

I literally experienced culture shock browsing a few popular Chinese TV shows, some of which reportedly have the nation's highest viewership ratings.

World Autism Day brings out a range of attitudes

On a grand-scale gala broadcast this weekend — its theme was to raise public awareness of and accommodation for autism and autistic groups — hosts called representatives up onto the stage and actually addressed them as "disabled patients".

In another nationally televised program, the majority of whose viewers are children and teenagers in China, the anchor called an autistic boy "you little fatso" and the audience burst into laughter.

I'm sure the hosts on both occasions meant no offense or ill-will. What concerns me is how this insensitivity and lack of conscience on well-viewed programs even exists and why it caused no backlash from viewers or activists?

Could it possibly be because this attitude is so common that everyone is already used to it?

Whatever the answer, I was not amused.

According to China's Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF), the total number of people in China with autism could exceed 10 million, with roughly 2 million under 14 years of age.

Education of autistic children in China is largely dependent upon private rehabilitation schools and training centers, which consistently made negative headlines for their loose management and staffs' lack of professional skills and treatment methodologies.

A solid public medical aid system and accessible services for autistic children and adults still remain out of reach, said the CDPF.

By coincidence, I was invited to a fundraiser on March 19 that was sponsored by Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN), a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to promoting more and smoother communication between autistic individuals and the rest of the society.

Throughout the three-hour program, which featured a talent show and silent auctions with video clips depicting the daily lives of autistic children and their families, I was amazed to see how well the special needs children were accepted wholeheartedly by US society.

Dare to Dream, the Special Needs Talent Showcase, had Matt Keller, a popular ABC7 TV news anchor, as host. Joining him on stage were actor Christopher Showerman of TV's Supergirl, and internationally acclaimed pianist and composer Stephen Prutsman.

Performers' special gifts were acknowledged, their efforts to achieve their dreams were applauded, they were treated with respect.

"We want to offer individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity to showcase and promote their talents, and the encouragement to reach for the star," said Anna Wang, vice-president of FCSN and mother of an autistic son. "We thank the Friends of Children with Special Needs for looking for abilities — not disabilities."

In a proclamation issued on World Autism Awareness Day, President Obama praised people within the autism spectrum for their contributions "in immeasurable ways to our society".

"They remind us each day that every person is born with unique talents and should be treated with respect, play an active role in planning for their futures and feel empowered to fully participate in and contribute to their communities," Obama said.

I have no doubt that there is a gap in professionalism, integrity and knowledge between media practitioners in the US and China. When it comes to dealing with topics like the underserved and the challenged — such as autistic children — I hope the China media will learn from their Western counterparts and narrow that gap.

What do you have a heart for, if not for that?

Contact the writer at

Most Popular
Hot Topics