BEIJING, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- China has at least 100,000 autistic children but there is a lack of adequate professional treatment available, an expert said Thursday.
"According to the statistics from the second China National Sample Survey on Disability, there are 100,000 autistic children in China. But the real number is much bigger than that," said an official surnamed Li with the Beijing Rehabilitation Association for Autistic Children (BRAAC).
"Beijing alone has about 80,000 autistic children," Li said.
A report by China Central Television (CCTV) said China has at least 1.8 million people, including 400,000 children, suffering from autism.
Autism is a mental disorder that makes it very difficult for people to communicate properly, or to form relationship with others. It accounts for a hefty proportion of mental disability among children, but its cause is a mystery. Some scientists believe it is genetic, while others say it could be environmental.
Doctors say children with autism should receive treatment between the ages of two and 12. With proper treatment at the right time, 20 to 30 percent of sufferers will learn to be independent adults.
However, there are only a few institutions in the country with adequate funding to give special treatment to autistic children, and "a lot of autistic children miss prime opportunities for treatment because of inadequate institutions and funds", according to Jia Meixiang, deputy chairman of BRAAC.
"The burden falls almost completely on the shoulders of the patients, and some parents have to fund rehabilitation centers themselves," said Jia, quoting Wang Guoqiang, father of a autistic child, who has donated 100,000 yuan each year since 2005 to BRAAC to sponsor poor families with autistic children.
Autism patients are not covered by Chinese law on the Protection of the Handicapped.
Earlier reports suggest that China is making efforts to improve the situation of autistic patients. Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan called on the public to care more for children suffering from autism at a charity function to raise funds for the disabled on Dec. 1.
The China Welfare Fund for the Handicapped also pledged to set up a special fund to support research into autism and establish rehabilitation organizations for children.