Raising a child with special needs can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be daunting – especially if you are an expat living in Beijing. Luckily, there is a growing list of resources available to special needs children and their families in China’s capital.
Eliott’s Corner is the Beijing branch of Olivia’s Place, an established pediatric therapy center in Shanghai. Founded by parents and therapists, Eliott’s Corner provides high-quality and affordable occupational, physical, and speech therapy for children from birth to adolescence.
The therapists at Elliot’s Corner are specially trained to work with children, and receive continuous education and guidance by working in interdisciplinary teams. They are supervised and supported by a board of international therapists. Occupational Therapist Elaine Tsang explains: “Abilities are a work in progress. Our focus is to help kids identify and maximize their abilities.”
Speech Therapist Amy Rose adds, “China presents some very unique challenges for expat kids, so working [with them]and their families has been extremely rewarding.”
Britt’s* 3-year-old son is a student at Eliott’s Corner. “My son receives professional therapy from very competent, skilled and caring therapists,” she says. “The therapists work closely with my son’s school and other professionals. I get the chance to meet people with knowledge from their particular profession and experience from being a parent like me. The clinic also gives different lectures and hosts a support group that I have joined. I have found a place where I can get answers to many of my questions.”
Lin’s* son started a program eight weeks ago. She finds that the therapists are both caring and experienced. As for her son, she shares: “His speech has improved significantly. Having a team of multidisciplinary therapists was an important factor for us.”
Part of the organization’s mission is to serve as a community resource. Eliott’s Corner offers classes in both English and Chinese, teaches and volunteers at local charities, and provides training to local therapists.
According to Ivy Academy Campus Director Ryan Cardwell, “Eliott’s Corner [cooperated]closely with our school this year, providing workshops for both parents and teachers. They are committed to raising awareness about physical and developmental disabilities in China.”
The support group at Eliott’s Corner allows parents to meet and share their experiences. “We hope to provide an environment not only for the children to thrive, but also a place where parents can turn to for support,” says Clinic Manager Jacqueline Chen. “Many expat families with children with special needs are afraid of settling down in China. They’re afraid they won’t get the support they do back at home. We hope to change that.”
Care for Children Special Needs School (CfCS) and Family Services Clinic
Care for Children is home to the Special Needs School and Family Services Clinic. The school provides part-time and full-time education to kids with moderate to severe special needs. The clinic offers therapy, evaluation, groups, training, and support for families in Beijing. As part of the Care for Children charity, the long-term vision of the school and clinic is to generate funds for the National Foster Care Project.
The Care for Children Special Needs School (CfCS) is an international school designed for special needs kids who are unable to gain admittance or find success within mainstream educational environments. The staff is highly-trained, knowledgeable, educated, and experienced. The high staff-to-student ratio gives students the opportunity to grow academically, socially, and as individuals.
The school uses the English National Curriculum with classroom groups, academic content, and teaching strategies individualized tailored to each student’s needs and strengths. All students also have access to a range of qualified therapists through the on-site Family Services Clinic.
“I am always impressed with the knowledge, expertise and professionalism of the staff at CfCS,” says School Head Dennis McKibben. “[Actually,] as a parent I am truly overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the team and the powerful combination of compassion and competence that is evident throughout this unique and nurturing learning environment.”
Stars and Rain
Stars and Rain was founded in 1993 by Tian Huiping, the mother of an autistic child. It is the first school in China devoted to kids with autism and their families. Autism impairs sensory input, causing problems in social behavior, communication, and learning – and an estimated five million people in China have it. There is no cure for autism, but early diagnosis and intervention are vital to a child’s development.
Stars and Rain was created to help autistic people enjoy an equal chance for development and the opportunity to have a normal life. Scott Sun of Stars and Rain says: “We focus on providing training [through]specialized teaching techniques. We help the families of [autistic children]strengthen their parenting abilities and promote the healthy development of social services for people with autism.”
Since its foundation, Stars and Rain has helped more than 6,000 children from every province in China. Every year, more than 30 staff members provide four 11-week sessions for 200 children and their families. The teachers have degrees in preschool education or social work and receive special training in autism and applied behavior analysis (ABA) at Stars and Rain. They offer individual educational programs tailored to each child and a parent training program using ABA that teaches families how to improve their child’s daily life.
The school also hosts workshops and teacher training for organizations that help children with autism outside of Beijing. Sun continues: “We encourage parents to become advocates for autistic children in their communities, including educating local kindergartens about autism, encouraging schools to open their doors to autistic students, starting parent support groups, and lobbying for diagnostic and social services.”
Because of the school’s limited capacity and large demand, Stars and Rain has a long waiting list. Unfortunately, most families with autistic kids have nowhere to turn since China’s special education schools are typically unable or unwilling to accept children with autism. Stars and Rain has not secured government funding yet, but still endeavors to provide affordable services. Private and corporate donations from China and abroad have played a critical role in helping Stars and Rain survive.
Side by Side
Side by Side is a completely foreign-owned-and-run center that supports children with special needs and learning difficulties. Their services include music therapy, learning support, community support, and a special education program. Team members are fully-qualified and experienced professionals who conduct services in English. Music therapy is also available in German.
“We aim to provide professional services at a personal level,” says Founder Anita Franklin. “I love working with our kids and their families. No day is the same!”
Cindy Bulteel, a parent of a special needs child, describes her experience with Side by Side as “deeply satisfying.” Her 11-year-old son Dominic is “making great progress as a learner and as an individual in a caring and supportive environment.”
Another parent, Maria Vanechanos, finds that her son Christopher has found a voice in music, prefering to write a song instead of a story.
Prue Harman and Tim Sutton are the parents of Max, a 10-year-old autistic boy. “We have been delighted with the day program. Max joined just a few months ago, [but now]he is a different boy. He is happy, stimulated, and developing friendships and new interests,” they say.
Beijing United Family Hospital
Many children face physical or cognitive challenges that require special attention at home, at school, and in the community. Beijing United Family Hospital’s (BJU) Department of Pediatrics recently began Developmental and Behavioral Pediatric Services (DBPS) in order to devote more resources to the developmental needs of Chinese and expat families. The service evaluates each child’s unique strengths and challenges, creates a care plan to help a child achieve his or her potential, and helps families cope with the practical and emotional concerns that accompany developmental and behavioral disorders.
“Child development is the result of the biological, psychological, [and]sociological changes that occur from birth through the end of adolescence, and includes a complex interaction between genetics, environment and learning,” says Dr. Alan Mease. “On occasion, all of this complexity results in delays or problems with behavioral, emotional or physical development.”
DBPS was established to give children the time and attention necessary to assess their issues and develop a treatment plan – a process that involves multiple appointments. With DBPS, children undergo special testing and benefit from an interdisciplinary approach that combines pediatrics and psychology, along with speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Developmental pediatrics recognize that, with a developing child, there is no way to separate the body from the mind. That means developing children require a bio-psychosocial approach. Too often, pediatrics deal only with physical issues and psychology deals only with psychological issues. But there is a whole group of kids out there that would benefit from a more holistic approach.
Dr. Mease explains: “Imagine that parents bring their 2-and-a-halfyear-old in for a consultation. The parents are concerned because the child has not started speaking yet. Most doctors would agree that this is a cause for concern. However, this concern is premature if the child’s family situation is not considered. If the child is born in China to expatriate parents who speak two different languages and the child is attending a Chinese school, then context has a huge influence on the child’s delayed speech.”
Because DBPS has the resources to further explore whether the child’s problem is situational, developmental or psychological, it is also capable of determining whether the child’s symptoms are the beginnings of a serious problem or no cause for concern.
Regular pediatric clinics perform general checks, but DBPS focuses on specific issues via an interdisciplinary approach. Everything – from serious issues to everyday challenges – is appropriate subject matter for a DBPS consultation.
Dr. Mease recommends early screening, detection, and intervention. Early screening is important to ensure that developmental issues are caught as soon as possible, so that support can begin. “Early intervention yields great benefits in the lives of children with developmental delays, and this clinic is the first step toward building a program to support that,” he says. “My ultimate goal is to help maximize each child’s potential.”
In addition to screening and diagnostic services, DBPS is equipped to support children with learning difficulties, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism or an autistic spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other genetic disorders, and repetitive behaviors and tics.
Beijing United Family Hospital 北京和睦家医院
Dr. Alan Mease, developmental pediatrician and director of the Specialty Pediatrics Clinic
2 Jiangtai Lu, Chaoyang District (5927 7222 BJU Pediatrics Department, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.ufh.com.cn
Eliott’s Corner 胡宝小屋
Jacqueline Chen, clinic manager
17C Golden Land Building, 32 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (6461 6283, email@example.com) www.oliviasplace.org
Care for Children Special Needs School (CfCS) and Family Services Clinic 关爱儿童
Dennis McKibben, school head of CfCS
101 River Garden, 7 Yuyang Lu, Houshayu, Shunyi District (8046 3306, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Side by Side
Anita Franklin, founder
3336 Capital Paradise, Houshayu, Shunyi District (8046 3858, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Stars and Rain 北京星星雨教育研究所
Wang Peipei, development officer
Bldg 4170, 18 Shuangqiao Donglu, Chaoyang District (8537 3236, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)