California Learning Center Offers Autism Programs Tailored for Chinese-American Children
The San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday profiled the Fremont, Calif.-based Dream Center, which is "believed to be the nation's only Chinese-centric autistic-focused center." The center was founded in 1996 by a few Chinese-American families to "help fellow Asians who were raised to feel ashamed of disabilities," according to the Mercury News. Anna Wang, co-founder of the Dream Center, said in the past, many autistic children have been hidden away and their parents have been blamed for somehow causing their children's disabilities.
The Dream Center is run by the Friends of Children with Special Needs organization and targets children ages nine to 18. The program does not medically treat autism but offers ethnically-tailored activities for children with learning disabilities. The activities include kung fu lessons, speech therapy, socialization skills, holistic programming, music lessons and family potlucks. This week the center began a two-week day camp pilot program that aims to "provide a fun, cultural and helpful experience for predominantly autistic kids and their parents of Chinese heritage," according to the Mercury News.
The Dream Center also has more than 30 off-site programs at local YMCAs and churches. Over the last decade the center's membership has grown from 10 families to 600 families. Wang said, "I think we've really changed the mindset of the Chinese community. They're more open to come out and stop being 'closet families' with special-needs children."
About 20% of the center's membership is black, Hispanic, Indo-American and white, according to Wang. Wang said she has helped other groups launch their own culturally-tailored autism programs. Rita Shreffler, a spokesperson for the National Autism Association, said she is unaware of any other culture-focused autism centers in the U.S. but she seen increasing interest from minority parents, including Spanish-speakers (Fernandez, San Jose Mercury News, 8/13).