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Dolphins to treat autistic children in China

IANS: A marine amusement park in China has purchased four dolphins, but they are not intended for amusement. The mammals will be use for treating children suffering from autism.

Autism is a neural disorder characterised by impaired social interaction and communication as well as repetitive behaviour.

The dolphins, bought from Japan with five million yuan ($738,000), have begun working with young patients after a month's adaptation and training, Mr Chen Rujun, chief inspector of animals at the Royal Ocean World in Fushun city in Liaoning province, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

"Royal Ocean World has provided therapy for autistic children since 2007, when we had three dolphins as 'doctors', treating more than 20 children, ranging from two years to ten years of age," Chen said.

Each child would have to come to the park 12 times a month, play with a dolphin as part of therapy, and the effect would depend on the time spent, he said.

A five-year-old boy from Anshan city, who used to be able to speak only a few words, was able to go to kindergarten and even sing along with songs on television after a one-and-a-half-month treatment, Chen said.

The treatment used to be free of charge, but as there has been an increase in demand, the park is now charging each family 2,000 yuan per month, and a lesser amount for poor families.

"More than 100 families from Liaoning, Hebei and Tianjin have lined up to make an appointment," said Zhang Yingying, business manager of the park.

Chen said dolphins emit high-frequency ultrasonic waves which stimulate dormant brain cells in autistic children. However, such treatment is only an assisted therapy and is not effective for all autistic children.

"Although the effectiveness reaches 90 percent, some families still said the treatment was without any effect for their children," Chen said.

"There is no scientific proof right now that dolphin therapy cures autistic people, and while it might be helpful for children, little effect has been seen on adults," Zhang Zhonghe, a professor at Liaoning-based Dalian Medical University, said.

Dolphin treatment is also being used in marine parks in other provinces including Shandong and Guangdong.

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