'Your kid is so stubborn': How Vietnam's mainstream schools fail autistic children

By Kieu Oanh, Thanh Nien News

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Children join a musical performance at a school for those with special needs in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Kieu Oanh Children join a musical performance at a school for those with special needs in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Kieu Oanh


Nam was admitted to a primary school in Ho Chi Minh City when he was 8, two years later than most of his peers. But for his parents, that was already a big accomplishment.
Years of bringing him to therapy centers and knocking the doors of many different schools finally paid off, they told themselves.
The parents almost sighed with relief that their kid, born with autism, could finally have a normal childhood in an inclusive environment where he would play and study with other kids. 
But dreams often come slow and go so fast.
After two months, Nam started hitting his head, hiding and curling under the table again. The parents received complaints from the school every day. 
“Your son is too stubborn!”
“Your son kept running around and other children could not study.”
“Your son is good at math but he can't do the simplest task of standing up to greet teachers.”
The Vietnamese government has been calling for mainstream schools to welcome autistic children, but there has not been much success since the schools are not well prepared, leaving parents with very few choices. 
Nam’s parents for instance decided to send him back to his special school, where no one would tease him, they said.
Thinh, who has an autistic child, found a school in the city’s District 3 which has years of experience in educating children with learning difficulties, and his child is now in grade four.
But he said every day is painful as the kid has no friends to play with and is usually bullied. 
Thinh said that it’s impossible for autistic children to navigate the complexities of friendships. They need someone to help them with that, he said.
Other parents blamed the heavy curricula, saying that autistic children should be exempted from subjects which require imagination and use of complicated language.
They said education officials should make mainstream schools adjust and train teachers so that they can be more supportive and tolerant. 
“Education officials keep calling for inclusive environments to help our kids but they do nothing,” a parent said.
Pham Thi Kim Tam, vice chairwoman of Vietnam Autism Network, said autistic children cannot engage in social interactions on their own because they cannot send or understand non-verbal messages and are not very adaptive to changes.
“Without special support, autistic children cannot make friends or maintain a friendship. They will be lonely and the integration education program will be a failure.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his message on the World Autism Awareness Day 2015 that more than 80 percent of adults with autism across the world are unemployed.
He called for more recognition of their “unique and often exceptional skills,” and for providing them the environments where they can excel.

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