You can hear the full interview here
Brad Weinberg and Fang Wenguang at CRI
In July of this year, Brad went on a bike ride across China in the hope of raising awareness of autism in a country where most of its inhabitants don't even know what it is.
Brad, together with his Chinese buddy Fang Wenguang and a couple of other warmhearted volunteers spent one and a half months cycling from Shanghai to impoverished areas of western China, passing remote countryside and crossing deserts in their 5,000-kilometer journey.
Chinastic had a talk with Brad and Fang Wenguang after they finished the trek and came to Beijing. Stay with us to learn more about the trip and autism in China.
About Autism in China
Chinastic (C): Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Brad Weinberg (BW): I've been in China for about six months now. At first I was teaching in Hebei Normal University in the city of Shijiangzhuang and then I went on a bike ride across China to raise awareness of autism for about one and a half months.
Fang Wenguang (F): I'm a sophomore in Hebei Normal University. My major is Preschool Education. Brad and I both like playing football, so we became good friends. Then he told me about his plan to bike across China, and that was how we began planning the trip together.
C: Brad, you just mentioned raising awareness of autism. Can you explain a bit about what autism is?
BW: Sure. The main characteristic of people with autism is their difficulty in speaking and communication. They usually lack social skills and the ability to interact with other people. Autism is a form of mental disability that makes it hard for people to interact with society. There are a wide range of people diagnosed with autism: some can function very well, almost like you and I, but some people are very different. It's actually a very hard diagnosis to make; there's no specific medical criteria on which to base it. But basically, people with autism have more difficulties than ordinary people to communicate.
C: Your little brother Blake is autistic. Is it common in the US?
BW: There are a fair number of people in the United States with autism - over one million people. It mainly affects men, but right now we don't really know why. There are similar numbers of sufferers in China as well.
C: Before this biking trip, how much did you know about autism in China?
BW: Relatively little. But I have visited some of the organizations, like Stars and Rain in Beijing and learned more about autism in China.
F: Well, I didn't know that much either. Before the trip, Brad took me to the Stars and Rain school, where I learned about autism and saw the kids there.
BW: It's interesting to me that Fang Wenguang only met with one or two people with mental disabilities before this trip, even though he studies education. It's a lot more common in America to meet these people and talk to them.
C: Did you manage to meet children with autism and talk to their parents in each city you stopped?
BW: We stopped in Nanjing, Hefei, Zhengzhou, Xi'an, Lanzhou, Jiayuguan, and Urumqi. We met with organizations in each city that help kids with autism, and I have to say that it was such an incredible experience. Those kids are absolutely incredible.
F: Yes. I remember there was a kid always playing at the table, reading newspapers and touching people's hair. He was very active, and he could speak English!
BW: Yes, he loves English. But very differently. I mean, at a certain level, he would do things that would annoy ordinary people. He may come over and grab your newspaper without asking. But if you understand why, you can live and work with them. We also spoke to parents. Most of the parents we met were incredible. They are doing everything they can to help their children. But they are having a very difficult time because not many people are aware and really understand the disorders, and that makes it very hard for them to get by. I just hope in the future people will be more supportive and give them greater understanding.
C: What was local people's reaction when you told them about autism?
BW: Most of them didn't know what it was, so we were explaining what we were doing. We said to them, "Let's provide hope for those people. You can; you just have to show a little love." That's what we said, and we got some good reactions.
C: What do you think is the biggest challenge in helping autistic people in China?
BW: I think it really does start with awareness, trying to get more people to understand what autism is. We have met lots of volunteers coming from all over the place. It was really encouraging. It takes lots of resources to help autistic kids, because one teacher can barely teach one or two of these kids. They need to be included in Chinese society more. For example, my little brother goes to a normal high school, where he has a teacher specially dedicated to helping him. There are people making fun of him, too, but in the long term it's really good for him because he gets used to other people.
F: There are some organizations in China, like one in Xi'an, that hire autistic people as normal employees to do simple work like cleaning, and they get paid, too.