What is autism?

Autism locks victims into an isolated world. Many have no communication or social skills and make no eye contact. Autistic children are often seen as extremely naughty. They need regular routine to calm them.

An estimated 26,000 children have severe autism, with an IQ of less than 70. They are likely to need care and supervision throughout their lives. Around 93,000 children have milder forms of autism.

What is the Higashi School?

Higashi - "hope" in Japanese - teaches a philosophy called Daily Life Therapy, pioneered in 1969 in Tokyo by the late Dr Kiyo Kitahara, who believed autistic children would feel less isolated and be less troublesome if taught to be independent.

In 1987, Higashi opened a school in Boston. It has about 120 pupils from around the world, aged between three and 22, and a mixture of American and Japanese teachers.

Most pupils live in supervised residential accommodation, where the Daily Life Therapy continues in the form of recreational activities. Parents are campaigning for a British Higashi School.

What does the school do?

Children undergo an intense, regimented programme of physical activity as well as instruction in music, the visual arts and group education to develop social skills. By structuring each day completely and eliminating choice, teachers hope to relieve the sense of confusion afflicting many autistic children.

What do the critics say?

Some find the more extreme forms of Higashi regimentation and group emphasis is unacceptable.

The National Autistic Society issued a report called Common Ground last year, aimed at evaluating Higashi's methods. It concluded that although there are some limitations to the curriculum, the standards of pupil welfare and the calibre of staff are high. The report said that some children might find teaching methods confusing, although others would find the skills very relevant.

The society reminded parents that provision for autistic children in the UK was extremely diverse.

Autism Awareness Week is from 1-7 December.

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