Outdoor activities can help autistic children improve their moving skills to integrate into the community. (Photo: laodong.vn)
Mai Anh, who lives in Hanoi, recalls trying to help her autistic son, Nguyen Trung Hieu, born in 1999, when few people knew about autism spectrum disorder. After many visits to doctors without result, she finally found out what disease her son was suffering from by chance, when she read a book that described in details autism and its symptoms.
Mai Anh immediately took her son back to the National Hospital of Pediatrics for an intensive examination. All tests confirmed that Hieu, who was then 2 and a half years old, suffered from autism.
In the 2000s, there was little information about autism in Vietnam. People had to learn from others in the same situation. Mai Anh searched for information in English and hired people to translate it into Vietnamese.
“We were among the first Vietnamese families to have children diagnosed with autism. Everything was new to us. Treatment involved going abroad or inviting foreign specialists to come to Vietnam to work with autistic children. A school for autistic children was set up by the parents, who had to recruit and train teachers on their own,” Mai Anh recalls.
When Hieu was 5 years old, he finally began to learn to talk, though his communication skills were still bad. After 20 years of patiently working with her autistic son, Mai Anh has helped Hieu integrate into society. Now Hieu can play the guitar quite well, paint, and cook dishes for himself.
Mai Anh’s story isn’t unique. A number of schools and centers to help autistic children and provide autism consultancy have been established nationwide.
Like dozens of children with autism under treatment at the Hanoi-based Center for the Future of Autistic Children, Bi, 15 years old, has the typical defects of autism spectrum disorder like an inability to communicate, especially in spoken words.
Nguyen Thi Huong, a teacher at the center, says it is rewarding to help the children communicate with others.
Huong told VOV “It doesn’t work to be hurried with autistic children. Everything must be step by step. First you need to find out their limitations to design the right curriculum for each child. Like a mother, I consider them my own children and hope they will open their hearts to me. If that happens I feel very happy.”
Psychologist Nguyen Thi Ngoc Bich, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and Director of the Cente, said that due to weak language ability and communication skills, children with autism find it hard to speak or mimic. They need to be taught to pronounce each word, starting with simple words like mom, grandmother, and yes.
Bich said it takes some children one, two, or even more years to learn proper pronunciation.
“Now it’s good for the autistic children that everybody seems to know about autism. It means they can integrate into the community and suffer less discrimination,” Bich said.
Without a specific lesson plan or method, teachers must assess the limitations and strengths of each autistic child to work out an individualized approach. Experience is the key for the teachers.
Psychologist Bich said some of the center’s children have recovered before reaching school age and can attend an ordinary school.
“It was thought that children began to suffer from autism at 2 or 3 years old. That was wrong. Autism is inborn and can be diagnosed in a baby’s first months. The earlier the disease is detected, the greater the chance the child will be successfully treated during their golden development years,” Bich explained.
“If parents discover their children can’t talk, won’t look other people in the eyes, or prefer playing alone, they should take their children to hospital for an examination. For effective treatment, doctors and psychologists are needed, but parents play the most crucial role. They should spend as much time as possible talking and interacting with the child,” she added.
Vietnam classifies autism as a disability, which means autistic children can benefit from state disability policies.