|Wang Lijun (left) helps a student eat lunch at the Seven Color Light center she founded in 2000 in Changchun, Jilin province.[Ding Luyang / China Daily]|
Center she founded in Northeast China assists autistic students via sensory training
A retired physics teacher is putting her scientific mind to work to help youngsters with a wide assortment of cognitive disabilities.
Over the past 18 years, more than 2,000 children have received systematic education at Wang Lijun's training center for emotionally and mentally challenged young people in Changchun, Jilin province.
Some of the children are autistic, while others have been diagnosed with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and various levels of mental disability.
Wang, 68, set up the center in 2000 when few people were familiar with the word "autism".
"During my decades as a physics teacher, I also did lots of research into teenage behavioral science and mental health," she said. "I launched a psychological consulting service for students in 1995, which was widely accepted among students and their parents."
Even after retiring in 2000, she often received various inquiries about students' learning difficulties, Wang said. As a result, she decided to set up a training center to improve children's learning abilities through "sensory integration training".
Among the students at the center, several children were of particular interest to Wang when she first opened its doors.
"They showed no difference in appearance from others but their behavioral expressions were abnormal," Wang recalled. "They never looked each other in the eye and seldom responded to my instructions, and they were poor in sports and communicating with others."
After consulting copious volumes of reference materials, she came to understand that they were autistic - a developmental disorder of the brain that affects an individual's ability to communicate.
People with autism are known to struggle with social interaction and speech.
"Surprisingly, after several months' training in the center, these autistic children changed a lot," Wang said. "They began to respond when I called their names, and they could follow my orders."
Furthermore, they could gradually control their behavior, which was an enormous surprise to their parents.
"More and more parents asked me to set up a full-time training school where they could put their autistic children without any worry," she said. "I couldn't refuse, even though I knew it would be quite difficult to be engaged in autistic children's rehabilitation training."
After several months of research and preparation, she upgraded her training center to a children's development facility, aimed specifically at cognitively disabled children.
She named the center Seven Color Light because "I wanted them to enjoy the sunshine just as other children do under the same blue sky", she said. "I also believe they can make their lives more colorful as their potential is stimulated."
It was really difficult at the beginning, she said. She raised about 200,000 yuan ($31,200) by all possible means to expand to more classrooms, buy training equipment and hire more teachers.
However, she had to suspend operations in the spring of 2003 during the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak.
But the SARS setback only encouraged her to work even harder, especially given the strong support she received from her students' parents.
"They told me their children were looking depressed and wanted to continue the course," Wang said. "The parents' recognition of their children's desire to continue gave me great power to persist, and fortunately I did."
Her school attracted more students due to word-of-mouth.
"Some 37 percent of the autistic children have entered mainstream society even though their proportion of hyperactive behavioral tendencies can reach 100 percent," she said. "Several autistic children were successfully enrolled in middle schools, high schools and technical training schools. One child was even admitted to university in 2015."
Qu Mingying, a mother of a 17-year-old autistic child, was overjoyed when her son, Yuan Yubo, organized a painting exhibition with 22 of his works on display.
Yuan was born in 2001 and was diagnosed with severe autism when he was 2 years old.
"We didn't see tangible improvements after several months of treatment in the hospital, so I sent him to Wang's center to help him develop," Qu said.
"But I was so nervous about his ability to attend group activities as he was easily distracted by noises like a child crying."
It took his teacher, Zhai Shuxin, a lot of time to calm him down and teach him to write, Qu said. In 2014, Zhai found Yuan was good at coloring various shapes, so she began to train him with oil paintings.
Zhai found that sketching helped Yuan ease his anxieties. In addition, he improved his drawing and writing skills, and sometimes could even help with housework such as sweeping floors and cutting vegetables.
After Yuan finished dozens of oil paintings, he held a small exhibition in October.
"The exhibition gave parents of autistic children great hope that we can improve our conditions and those of our children through our own endeavors," Qu said.
For Wang, everything was getting better until 2015. "In July that year, I was suddenly asked to move out from the schoolhouse that we'd run with a kindergarten for 13 years," she said. "I spent the whole month looking for a new location but came up empty."
Once again, the parents helped Wang pull through. They raised 900,000 yuan by prepaying tuition fees, "and I sold some assets to raise 430,000 yuan", she said. Using the money, the center moved into the 200-square-meter schoolhouse two months later.
"With everyone's joint efforts, conditions are getting better and better. I have expanded the school to 400 square meters after renting two adjacent apartments," Wang said.
"Even though I'm still in debt, I feel proud to see the improvement of the children's training environment. I'll keep forging my way without any hesitation."
|Wang shows students' individual training plans at the center. [Ding Luyang / China Daily]|
(Source: China Daily)
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