How a Chinese mother went back to school to help her autistic son get into university

Bao Han has spent the past 10 years sitting in class with his mum, a physics teacher who gave up her job to help him study

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 11:55am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 2:14pm

A youngster in southwest China has become the first autistic student from Sichuan province to get into university, but he will have to get used to sitting in lectures without a familiar classmate – his mum.

Bao Han will start his first semester at Nanjing Normal University of Special Education in September, majoring in computer science, West China City News reported on Sunday.

Having had learning difficulties since primary school, Bao was thrilled to have been accepted into the university, the only one in China that trains teachers for students with special needs.

His teachers in Chengdu told the newspaper that his mother, Pang Zhihua, had done everything she could to give her son a chance at a university education.

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Pang gave up her job as a physics teacher over 10 years ago so that she could spend her days sitting beside him in the classroom, to help him with his studies.

She said Bao had been diagnosed with autism at the age of three, and found it difficult to get along with the other children at kindergarten.

“The other kids would be running around together in the playground, but my son was always by himself near the wall,” Pang was quoted as saying. “Some of the others would chase him and call him ‘stupid’.”

Bao’s mother decided to take action, giving up her middle school job and applying to the primary school, hoping she could work in his kindergarten. With no teaching positions available, Pang instead took a job as a cleaner, playing games with her son and his classmates during their breaks.

“Seeing my son playing together with his buddies, all of them beaming and laughing, I really felt that my efforts were worth it,” Pang was quoted as saying.

Autism is estimated to affect more than 10 million people on mainland China, according to state-run China News Service. The disorder affects how a person behaves and interacts with others, their communication and learning, and it ranges in its severity and symptoms.

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At primary school, Bao started having more trouble with his studies, and that was when Pang asked the school if she could join her son in class to help him – taking notes, and going over the lessons with him afterwards.

Ten years on, the university entrance exams were looming and his mother said he was determined to succeed. “When he was preparing for the exams, my son studied so hard – he’d wake up at 6.30 in the morning every day,” she told the newspaper. “He spent most of his time going over his English vocabulary, revising and doing mock exams.”

It paid off – after he passed the written tests and an interview for the Nanjing university, Bao was paired up with a first-year student on campus for two weeks to see how he would go.

“The university wanted to see if my son got along with the other students during the trial, and if he could apply himself to his studies,” Pang said. “The teachers were all very positive about him.”

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Bao is also feeling positive about his new challenge – and he’s thinking about what he can do in the future. One idea is designing driverless tractors, to make farmers’ lives easier.

For Pang and her husband, they will be happy if their son can live an independent life. They plan to move to Nanjing, in eastern China, in the next couple of weeks, renting a flat near Bao’s university.

But Pang said her son will be on his own in the lecture theatres.

“I’m old and I won’t be able to answer many questions about his major,” she said. “But I want to be close by – if something happens, we’re there.”