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  • Janine Mhlongo

Neurodiversity in China and Opportunities for Chinese Student Recruitment

Neurodiversity refers to the diversity of brain functions and structures of individuals with non-pathological neurodevelopmental disorders. The causes of neurodiversity are genetic variations that lead to changes in the brain’s development and functions.

While these variations are universal, they are often viewed differently in China compared to Western countries. A prime example is how commonplace it is in Western schools to provide students with accommodations, such as learning difficulties with extra time to complete examinations or submit assignments. These accommodations are uncommon in schools in China.

This lack of diagnosis and services leads to many students in China not performing at their best. Consequently, many families look to study abroad to find education opportunities matching their students’ learning styles. In this article, we look at the importance of neurodiversity and potential opportunities when recruiting students in China.

Table of Contents

Neurodiverse Students in China

As of 2019, statistics show that 1% of Chinese children have autism, which is similar to rates in the US and UK. Over 500,000 children have been identified to be on the autism spectrum in China. This number is more accurate than in the past, but due to economic and cultural factors, there are many cases that go undiagnosed.

Accordingly, many students with special learning needs are likely to be perceived as distracted or passive. These students do not benefit from school services for students with disabilities or social support groups, and they will face a harder time pursuing their academic aspirations.

This perpetuates the cycle of misdiagnosed cases and stifles the upward mobility of students from often rural areas that do not have access to the support received in urban areas and western schools.

Potential Challenges in Recruiting Neurodiverse Students

Even with western influence, many Chinese parents do not seek out a diagnosis for their children in order to "save face," and those that do want support struggle to find affordable or accessible support.

Losing Face

Due to the cultural concept of “saving face,” conversation about neurodiversity may rarely come up in everyday conversation in China and it may be a difficult concept to approach with a student or family. This may lead to people not wanting a diagnosis or not telling others about their diagnosis and even if they have a diagnosis, they might not get the support they need. For example, students with undiagnosed dyslexia will not want to participate in public reading exercises because they will be perceived as being unable to read, and teachers may not appropriately accommodate students who need additional test time.


Accessibility is a factor in Chinese schools. A lack of visual, audio, and spatial aids for students who need them further perpetuates stigma and discourages students with special learning needs. This means that students will not have a history of using these aids and will need schools that will help them adjust to the new learning methods. For example, if a student on the autism spectrum has never taken an oral examination, they will require assistance with adjusting to that kind of accommodation.

Opportunities for Addressing Neurodiversity and Recruiting Neurodiverse Students

To recruit and support neurodiverse students, you can connect students with each other, share resources, and share tools:

Connect Neurodiverse Students

Connecting students with other students who make use of support services will help destigmatize their learning ability and help the students feel a part of a community. This is especially important in China as Chinese society places value on word-of-mouth interaction as shared in our article, “A friend of a friend.” Sharing student-made videos/blogs for example will help students by giving them a first-hand look at what schools have to offer. For more tips on connecting students with each other see our article "5 Ways to Demonstrate True Student Experience Pre-Enrollment."

Share Resources

Include information about supporting neurodiverse students in your international student brochures and communications. Chinese families often seek out international education opportunities because of the ways foreign institutions support diverse learners. At the same time, Chinese schools rarely promote amenities aimed at neurodiverse students, therefore representation in this way will cause awareness and help to make the students feel welcome. International schools are increasingly employing dedicated staff to work with students with special needs. Services such as learning access programs and assistive technology centers are good examples of how schools can cultivate a friendly environment.

Share Additional Tools

Students will have access to reasonable accommodations once they are registered and have disclosed their need for additional support in their application or with the disability services at the school. Although disability disclosure is not obligatory, students have to seek out further instructions on how to access disability services on campus.

A poster from Rowan University that says "Defining and celebrating neurodiversity"
Rowan University promotes neurodiversity awareness and inclusion. Image courtesy of Rowan University

Here are some examples of schools that have adopted a neurodiverse-friendly environment:


Although the challenges faced by Chinese students with neurodiverse learning abilities may be tough, their prospects are plentiful in international schools. Students can successfully pursue an international education once they are equipped with the information and reinforcement that they need. Therefore international education has the ability to propel these students toward their dreams and open up a world of opportunities that they may otherwise never have had the opportunity to explore.



eduFair China is a free website and app connecting Chinese students with international institutions and first-hand resources about studying abroad. We aim to give students a more empowered approach to international education so that they can succeed during their journey abroad.

Our platform features more than 1,200 organizations and reaches millions of students across China.

Click here to learn more about getting your institution online and how eduFair can help you reach students in China.



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