Taiwanese Special Ed Teacher Takes Autistic Children into Mongolian Desert

Taiwanese Special Ed Teacher Takes Autistic Children into Mongolian Desert

What you need to know

'It was a very difficult journey, but I saw so much growth and change in the children.'

Imagine eight days in a Mongolian desert. Then add three children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) to the picture.

This is the environment that Taiwanese special education teacher Chu Chih-kuang (曲智鑛) worked in for eight days in May.

“It was a very difficult journey, but I saw so much growth and change in the children,” Chu told The News Lens.

Chu says one of the three ASD children on the trip was a very picky eater and would get very emotional whenever it was time to eat.

“But we had to let the children know that in a community you can’t always ask others to change the rules just because of you,” says Chu. Although he got into many conflicts with the child, Chu did not give in to him.

So what did the child learn from the experience?

Chu says that on the way back to Taipei, the child told him he came to understand the meaning of “tolerance” during those eight days. His parents also told Chu that the child had become a less picky eater and was more considerate of others after his adventure.

Photo Credit: Chu Chih-kuang (曲智鑛)
On the desert trip.

Getting involved

It all started with Chu forgetting to erase a teachers' college from his list of college choices and subsequently he entered the department of special education at National Taipei University of Education.

“That accident was what determined my life as an educator,” says Chu. “I thought I would be able to explain myself to my high school teachers as long as I got into a national university, but I’m grateful the heavens had this mistake in store for me.”

During his college studies, he found there was still a huge gap between the school education system and family education for people with special needs. Therefore after Chu obtained his teaching license, he decided to establish Tao-xi Workshop (陶璽特殊教育工作室) to carry out his own concepts of special education.

Chu says the first few years were very difficult. As his classmates became formal teachers one by one each year, his relatives asked him why didn’t he just do the same?

But Chu believed that special education wasn’t just about helping children through the system, but also influencing the environment they live in.

The young educator says schools plan an individualized education program for each special ed student every semester based on the subjects and the child’s learning ability.

“I often attend the meetings with parents to clarify the different goals in each environment [in school, outside school, and at home], and many teachers resist at first,” says Chu.

He says many special ed teachers thought that Chu meant to “supervise” them, however through constant communication with the schools and teachers they gradually developed a good working relationship.

Chu also thinks that putting the children in different environments is a way to enhance their social abilities. Therefore he reached an agreement with parents and teachers to take the children on activities such as hiking and singing.

“These activities let the children discover their abilities, and not think about what’s wrong with them or have someone tell them the skills you need to be sociable,” says Chu.

Photo Credit: The News Lens
Chu in front of his workshop.

Future plans

The educator has also been working at Junyi Academy (均一教育平台), an online education platform aiming to provide equal education. Chu says his colleagues at Junyi gave him the motivation to experiment with different opportunities, such as the journey to the Mongolian desert.

He says he originally wanted to give up his workshop because there is a limited amount of children he can teach in the space. But the chairman of Junyi told Chu “The amount of influence you can have on one child and a group of children are both unlimited and incomparable.”

Therefore Chu plans to focus more on his workshop in the future.

After learning of his experience in the desert, fellow workers in China have invited Chu to work together. They plan to take 10 ASD children on a “walk” from Dandong to Guangxi later this year. The trip will be over 10,000 kilometers.

“ASD children are very lonely,” says Chu. “And we have decided not to make them feel alone anymore.”

The original interview was published in Chinese on The News Lens.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole