Abuse scandal in Beijing rehab center that treats “fake autism”

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On August 13, China National Radio reported on a case of child abuse that occurred in the Senxi Education Group, a Beijing rehabilitation centre for children with autism. Surveillance camera footage obtained by the parents appears to show teachers mistreating several autistic children, tying them up, beating them and forcing them to perform various exercises. The police are now investigating the case.

The Senxi Educational Group is notable for claiming that more than 90% of children diagnosed with autism actually have “fake autism”. The concept of “fake autism” was created by Chenqi, the group’s founder. He is known to tell anxious parents that their children are not autistic, but rather just suffer from delayed development or Asperger’s syndrome, and that 80% of children can be cured after being treated in the centre within six month. As one parent recounted, “We all hope that our children are not autistic. Chen took advantage of this kind of psychology unscrupulously. After spending only a few minutes on a child’s ability assessment, Chen spent more than half an hour boasting about his theories and gave parents his firm and solemn promise on the success rate of treatments.” Charges for the rehabilitation treatment can reach 14,000 Rmb per month.

After watching the surveillance camera footage showing children being ill-treated and abused by teachers, parents started to expose more failings in Senxi. “The centre refused to release the videos of daily treatments when we asked because they said it was confidential material”, explained a mother. “There are in fact no treatments at all, sometimes teachers just let these children watch TV for three hours”, another parent added. There are however still over forty parents who have decided to stay for further treatment because they believe their children have made some progress, and they still put some trust in the centre.

Another thing that has caused concern in this story is the ranking given to the Senxi Education Group by Baidu. When parents search for information about early behavioural intervention for child autism in China’s major search engine, Senxi is the first result that pops up. There is no doubt that this is what catches the attention of most of the parents. In April this year the group’s co-founder, Liu Yu, also made an appearance on national television and asserted the centre’s authority in autism rehabilitation. Many parents have little understanding of the condition, and turn to high-priced private institutions to seek solutions. It is reported that there are more than 1,000 private institutions specializing in child autism rehabilitation, but the majority of them lack professionalism and experience.