Children play at a private school for autistic children in Ho Chi Minh City.
Tham quit her job as an accountant in Ca Mau Province and moved to Ho Chi Minh City more than a year ago, but she was not seeking greener pastures.
Moving from her native place, about 350 kilometers away from the city, was not an easy decision, but it was one the mother of a three-year-old autistic daughter felt she had no choice but to take.
Tham is not the only parent who has made this shift so that their children can attend a private school specializing in caring for autistic children in HCMC's Binh Thanh District.
At least 10 families from outside HCMC are living in an alley off Dien Bien Phu Street so that they can send their children to the nearby Khai Tri School for Special Education at 214/25F.
The school currently has more than 100 children.
Tham's husband works far from home, so she had to send her elder daughter to a relative before leaving Ca Mau.
"At my place, there is no school for autistic children. We (parents like her) thus have no choice but to leave our homes and jobs behind, and bring the little ones to live here, at least temporarily," she said.
Tham stays in a room for VND3.5 million ($167) a month. She pays all the rent and shares it with another mother named Ngoc from Gia Lai Province in the Central Highlands, whose eldest daughter, 4 years old, has autism.
Ngoc lived at a relative's home until two months ago, but it's far from the school.
There are people who cannot afford the rent in HCMC.
Nguyen Minh Tuan, 10, and his 62-year-old grandmother wake up at 5:30 a.m. and walk one kilometer every day to catch a bus to the school.
Chau Thi Tang said they are staying with the boy's aunt in Binh Duong Province. His parents are divorced and his step father is a driver who is usually away from home.
Every day after class, the boy asks his grandmother who is waiting outside the school: "Will you leave me grandma?" She gives the same reply every time: "No, I love you."
Tang said the family does not have enough money and have had to cut his classes from full day to half-a-day, which cost VND3 million a month.
"I don't know how long he would be able to attend the school."
A 51-year-old father, who only wanted to be referred to as P.N.H., is haunted by the same question as the grandmother.
H. has been sending his son to Anh Vuong, another private autism school in the city's District 12, since the last four years.
A driver by profession, H. said his wife is not working as she has to take care of their paralyzed daughter. He is afraid he is not strong enough to work for a long time and be able to pay his son's school fees.
The school has given his son a VND4 million discount, leaving the monthly school fee at VND1 million, which is one-fifth of his income.
Doctor Huynh Tan Mam, the founder of Khai Tri, said Vietnam needs to have more public schools specializing in autism.
"There are more autistic children these days who are not receiving enough attention from the society.
"Our country's disability laws make no mention of autistic people."
Doctor Hoang Trong Kim, chairman of the HCMC Pediatrics Association, said medical textbooks in Vietnam need to include autism so that any students are equipped to deal with the condition in the future.
Recently, teachers and doctors at Khai Tri school have translated the book "Autism physician's handbook" by the US-based Hans Help Autism Now Society to give doctors and teachers in Vietnam the knowledge and skills they need to work with autistic children.
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