A Chinese School's Case of SARS

Brush with Disease Puts Beijing Autism Program in Jeopardy

Tian Huiping, director of the Stars and Rain Education Institute for Autism in Beijing, China.

hide captionTian Huiping, director of the Stars and Rain Education Institute for Autism in Beijing, China.

Yan Liang
Teachers under quarantine

hide captionThe staff spent weeks in quarantine, some at home, and some at the school, where they tried to kill time by making lesson plans.

Yan Liang
The Stars and Rain staff created a wall of wishes for their hospitalized friend.

hide captionDuring their quarantine, the Stars and Rain staff created a 'wall of wishes' for their hospitalized friend.

Yan Liang

More than 330 people in mainland China have died from SARS. That stark number hides uncounted stories of fear and pain and struggle. In a town on the outskirts of Beijing, one of those stories unfolded in a school for autistic children and their parents.

The mother of an autistic son, Tian Huiping opened the Stars and Rain Education Institute for Autism 10 years ago. It's a school for autistic children, but the program also teaches parents how to cope with the disorder.

In late April, a volunteer at the school became ill with SARS, and Tian was faced with many hard decisions. First, she had to find a hospital that would treat the young woman. Then, she had to try to convince the 50 families staying at the school to not leave. If they headed for their homes in towns and villages around China, they could be carrying the contagious disease with them.

Despite Tian's pleas, all 50 families packed up and left the school. Tian was confronted with her biggest dilemma yet: Whether to report the fleeing families to the authorities in an attempt to stop the spread of SARS. NPR's Richard Harris tells Tian's story, and the consequences of her decisions.

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