FIVE's inspiration is Zhang Ge, a young woman with autism in Nanjing, China PRC. FIVE's co-Founder and Executive Director, Helen McCabe, met Zhang Ge in 1992 when Helen was 22 and Zhang Ge was 8 years old. Over the years, Zhang Ge and Helen have remained important parts of each other's lives. Helen and many of FIVE's board members have met Zhang Ge and other individuals with autism and other disabilities in China and realized the need for more services to help families.
FIVE is a collaborative effort between the founders and board members who have career backgrounds and personal interest in adult education, special education and mental health. Founders and Board Members wish to help meet the need in China (and for Chinese-speaking families in the United States) for individuals with disabilities and special educational needs. With that in mind, The Five Project for International Autism and Disability Support, Inc. was incorporated in Randolph, Massachusetts, USA in December 2006.
People often ask why we do this work in China. Unlike in the United States, where special education is mandated by law, and where there are numerous educational and vocational opportunities supported by government and private agencies, in China there is a serious need for information and services for children, adolescents and adults with autism and other disabilities. For example, autism was only first diagnosed in China in 1982 and awareness is only beginning. Because of a lack of awareness about autism and other disabilities (including mental illness and cognitive disabilities), many families still face school rejection, social discrimination, and a lack of any type of support. Because of Helen’s years of experience researching, living and volunteering to provide training about autism intervention in China, FIVE regularly receives requests for help from program directors, teachers, parents and other family members.
In order to help address these needs, FIVE conducts onsite training at special educational organizations in China, geared toward increasing the capacity of organizations and teachers to effectively serve individuals with autism. FIVE also provides workshops for professionals and family members. FIVE provides support and information in several ways, including running a monthly support Peer and Family Support Group for individuals and families of individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, and mental health issues. This group has been running since January 2008. Because the services offered by FIVE are offered in Chinese, FIVE also assists Chinese families in MA, USA in person and in other parts of the USA and abroad by mail.
Another question we often hear is "Why is it called 'The Five Project'?" The name was chosen in honor of Zhang Ge who, like many individuals with autism, has a deep love and interest in certain things--in this case, the number five!