Chinese doctors called for more early detection and treatment for children on the autism spectrum as they observed the World Autism Awareness Day on Monday.
"If parents detect the traits of autism in their children early and take proper intervention, most children can see their quality of life improve," said Wu Lijie, professor at Harbin Medical University. "Some may even be able to live, study, and work independently when they grow up."
According to the Chinese Medical Association, children on the spectrum may be unable to or struggle to take part in conversations. They also have difficulties in seeing or pointing to objects.
"These are all telling signs for parents," said a doctor with the association.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions, and by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.
No effective treatment has been found to cure autism.
Caring for a child on the autism spectrum requires six to eight family members on average in China, the doctor said.
A key to early intervention is therapy centers. Because children on the spectrum often struggle to keep up with their classmates, they benefit from attending centers where their specific needs can be attended to.
Yang Jianjun, who has a child on the spectrum, opened the latest such center in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province. It has accepted 50 students, ranging in age from eight to 25, in 10 classes. The students focus on gardening, cooking, woodwork, music and drawing.
"Though there are now thousands of autism therapy centers in China, mine is special because it admits not just children but adults as well," Yang said.
Autism was largely unknown to many Chinese until a few years ago. Successful awareness campaigns have led to increased funding and academic research on the disorder.
Yu Xiaotong, a member of the Chinese Association of Geriatric Research, is leading a research team using acupuncture to treat autism with traditional Chinese medicine.
At Zhejiang University, Luo Jianhong and his team published the key findings of their research on autism in the March 1 issue of the neuroscience journal Neuron. Luo's research, conducted on mice, suggested that by manipulating certain interneurons, the social deficits in autism may be lessened in adulthood.
The university hailed the research, saying it may cause a "therapeutic revolution."