What does FIVE mean? There is a story behind the name FIVE. In fact, it’s FIVE because a young woman with autism who is FIVE’s inspiration loves the number 5! Here is her story and our story.

In 1992, Helen McCabe, a recent Middlebury College graduate, headed to Nanjing to study at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (南大-霍大中美中心). With a degree in East Asian Studies, this was the perfect next step. But Helen also had other interests; she had loved volunteering for the Special Olympics in Vermont and she wanted to do just a little volunteering with young people with disabilities while in Nanjing. Through a fortunate series of introductions, beginning with and thanks to Dr. Lu Ruwen, she met Zhang Ge, an 8 year-old girl with autism. Helen never imagined that this little girl would change the entire direction of her life … but this is exactly what happened! Volunteering weekly with Zhang Ge turned into a true friendship with Zhang Ge and her family (her mom, dad, and little sister). This friendship led to Helen meeting hundreds of children with autism, their families and teachers and embarking on graduate study and a career in special education. Over the years, Zhang Ge and Helen have remained important parts of each other’s lives.

Each time she visited China for study or vacation, Helen always included visits with Zhang Ge and with other children with autism and their families. At first, she met one more, then a few more, then tens and hundreds … until she realized that the need was, of course, more than one person could meet on their own. Even as parents began founding autism organizations, they needed training and support, but there were no existing groups or organizations to do the capacity-building work that was needed. So, she continued volunteering whenever she could and finally, in 2006, she and her sister Karen decided to start a nonprofit to expand her efforts to provide support for people with autism, their families, and their teachers in China. When co-founders Helen and Karen McCabe decided to formalize these years of volunteer work, they decided that since their inspiration for doing work in this field is Zhang Ge, and she loves the number FIVE, so to honor her and others with autism and other disabilities, they would call the organization The Five Project for International Autism and Disability Support (FIVE for short). FIVE was incorporated in Randolph, Massachusetts, USA in December 2006.

FIVE is a collaborative effort between the founders and board members, who have all met Zhang Ge over the years and volunteered in various capacities supporting individuals with disabilities, as well as many colleagues and partners in China. Board members have professional backgrounds in adult education, special education and mental health. Founders and board members work with partners in China, including families and teachers, to respond to unmet needs and requests for supporting individuals with disabilities and special educational needs. FIVE’s resources are also available online to Chinese-speaking families in the United States and elsewhere.

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 training to effectively provide evidence-based services for children, adolescents and adults with autism and other disabilities. Autism was first diagnosed in China in 1982 and, although awareness is growing, effective practices are still challenged by lack of training and large numbers of students. Because of a lack of understanding 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 living, researching, and volunteering in China to provide training about autism intervention in China, FIVE regularly receives requests for assistance and collaboration from program directors, teachers, parents and other family members. FIVE was formed in order to meet these requests.