časopis pro pedagogiku v souvislostech * journal of education in contexts
Ročník: 2017Volume: 2017
Číslo: 1Issue: 1
Vyšlo: 1. srpna 2017Published: August 1st, 2017
Ling, Guo - Potměšil, Miloň. A Bibliometric Analysis of Current Research Situation of Early Intervention for Exceptional Children in Mainland China. Paidagogos, [Actualized: 2017-08-1], [Cited: 2024-06-13], 2017, 1, #8. P. . Availiable at: <>


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A Bibliometric Analysis of Current Research Situation of Early Intervention for Exceptional Children in Mainland China

Guo Ling - Miloň Potměšil

Abstract: In order to provide reference for further studies, this study attempts to summarize and present current research situation of early intervention in China based on the bibliometric analysis of academic articles about early intervention from 2003 to 2014 in mainland China. The findings are as follows: (1) there is significant increase in the number of articles and more attention has been paid to this area; (2) relevant research results have a wide distribution and the quality of research still needs to be improved; (3) the research subjects of early intervention are various and a stable and mature research team is still unformed; (4) there is a increasing diversity of research methods and constant expanding of research content.

Keywords: Early Intervention, Bibliometric Analysis, Exceptional Children .


Since it had been put forward for the first time in 1960s, early intervention has developed its object from children in disadvantaged situations to exceptional children and gained increasing attention from the international field of special education to achieve abundance research findings. Different from many developed countries, early intervention in mainland China is not mainly focused on children between 0 to 3, but has a much broader age range from 0 to 6 or 8 years old[1]. According to a famous Chinese specialist of special education, early intervention (EI) means various professional services provided to children with developmental disabilities or who may have developmental disabilities between 0 to 6 or 7 years old and their families[2]. These professional services refer to early detection, early identification, early diagnosis and comprehensive supports including medical care, health care, rehabilitation, education, social services, parent parental guidance and etc. As an indispensable constituent of special education, early intervention can help to compensate children’s deficiency, prevent deepening degree of disabilities, improve children’s development of cognition, language and social adaptation abilities, and to prepare for latter primary school study and social life [3].

As one country with huge population in the world, China has a large number of people with disabilities. According to the second China national sample survey on disability in 2006, the number of various kinds of disabled people is 8296 million [4], among which 167.8 million are children from 0 to 6 years old [5]. What’s more, every year 19.9 million[6] of children with disabilities will be added to this age group. It has been estimated that the total number of disabled people till 2010 is 8502 million [7]. In consideration of these statistics, promoting research and practice of early intervention should be one important part of the work concerning people with disabilities.

From 1980s, certain researchers in China had initialed to do some related studies and published many articles and several monographs. At the beginning of 21 century, Yang Xijie summarized and reviewed related research about early intervention in mainland China before 2003 from several aspects including definition, objects, types of researchers, relevant legislation, related theories and specific research content of early intervention [8]. Recently, with the coming of “the spring for special education” in mainland China, research and practice of this area have made new progress. Hence, in order to provide reference for further studies, this paper attempts to summarize and present current research situation of early intervention in China, by doing the bibliometric analysis of related articles about early intervention from 2003 to 2014.


Research Subject

The subjects of this study are the Chinese articles which had been published between Jan.1,2003 and Dec.31,2014. By using the Leshan Normal University node of China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) and VIP Journal integration S Platform(VIP) as databases of article sources and “Exceptional Children/children with disabilities” “Early Intervention” as subject terms to search, we have found 132 useful articles, including13 master or doctor theses.

Research Procedures

The research procedures include two steps. Firstly, sort the initial found articles and remove the useless ones which means conference papers with abstract only and articles with inconsistent contents and topics. Secondly, determine the areas and specific dimensions of analysis, and then encode all of the articles according to pub-year, journal, article type, authorship, geographical distribution, research method, research topic and etc.

Overview of the articles

Annual Distribution of Articles

The annual distribution of research articles helps to reveal general developmental situation of a certain topic. Hence, the first step is to count the number of articles about early intervention from 2003 to 2014 in mainland China according to years. Results as shown in figure 1.

Graph 1: Annual Distribution of Articles about EI in Mainland China(2003-2014)

From figure 1, there is a generally upward trend of number of articles about EI in the 12 years from2003 to 2014 in mainland China. According to the number of articles, it can be divided into three phases: phase one from 2003 to2006 with an average article number about 6; phase two from 2007 to 2010 with an obvious growth of average article number above 10; phase three from 2011 to 2014 with a substantial increase of average article number of more than 16, especially in 2011 with an article number of 23 which is almost the twice of the previous year. This annual distribution reflects the changes of researchers’ attention to EI for exceptional children to some extent. That is more and more researchers start to focus on early intervention. But compared with the appreciable quantity of article number in special education as a whole, more attention should be paid to research in EI and there is a long way to go.

Information about Article Sources

Related articles about EI have a wide range of sources. Classifying the 119 journal articles (without theses) by journal type, the results are shown in table1.

Table 1: Number of articles about EI according to different journal types(2003-2014)

According to table 1, articles about EI are from various kinds of journals, including special education, preschool education, comprehensive education, medical and health care, civil affairs, and etc. seven types and 56 journals in total. Among them, journals of special education type are the most important source of related articles with the highest percentage of article number (31.1% specifically) and lower number of journals (5 specifically) which indicates the concentration of articles in one journal. Meanwhile, journal of medical and health and journal of colleges or universities also have large number of published articles, but these articles are relatively scattered to more than 13 journals. Journals of comprehensive education and preschool education have concerns about early intervention as well, but without high awareness. The most interesting is that one journal of civil affairs named “Social Welfare” published 4 articles about EI in total.

Further count the main source journals which have published 4 articles or above in total. The results are as follows.

Table 2: Main Source Journals of Articles about EI(2003-2014)

According to table2,among the 12 years, two professional journals named “A Journal of Modern Special Education” and “Chinese Journal of Special Education” had published the most articles about EI, but the average annual publication output is just about 1 article. Next, ”Journal of Suihua University ” “Chinese Scientific Journal of Hearing and Speech Rehabilitation” and “Maternal &Child Health Care of China” are also important sources of articles about EI. Besides that, “Early Childhood Education (Educational Science)”, “Preschool Education (early childhood)”,“Studies in Foreign Education” and “Basic Education Review” also have some related articles.

Furthermore, classify the 119 published journal articles by journal level which means core journals or non-core journals and count the number. Results are shown as figure2.About three quarters of all articles are from non-core journals with the article number of 89 and relatively only 30 articles are from core journals, which indicates that the quality of articles about EI need to be improved.

Graph 2: The Level of Articles’ Source Journals (2003-2014)

Article Types

Classify the 132 related articles by five different article types, namely theory exposition type (exposition of theories and concepts about EI), intervention practice type (including intervention practices, summarization of intervention experience, case study and etc.), investigation orientation type(mainly about investigation of EI-related issues), introduction experience of abroad type and others. The number and percentage of different type articles are in table 3.

Table 3: The Number of Articles according to Different Article Types(2003-2014)

According to table3, articles of theory exposition type account for the majority of the total from 2003,which focus on the following topics: basic connotation of EI, early family intervention, concepts of EI for different kinds of exceptional children, combination of education and rehabilitation, preschool special education, EI for exceptional children in rural areas and etc. Intervention Practice type takes the second place with the percentage of 26.5.This type is mostly about introduction of intervention methods for different kinds of exceptional children, analyzing intervention outcomes and strategies. Articles of investigation orientation type and introduction Experience of Abroad type separately share a relatively small proportion, as the former is mainly about investigation of EI in some local areas and survey of parents’ awareness, and the latter concerns EI models, projects, legislation and research developments in other countries.

Research Force

(1)Researcher Identity

Categorize the identities of researchers of the 132 articles according to their working unit into the following four kinds: full-time research staff (including staff of specialized research agency, teachers in universities and colleges, undergraduate, master and doctor students); grassroots teachers(including staff in rehabilitation centre);hospital personnel and multiple identities which refers to researchers from more than one kind of the above.

Table 4: Researcher Identities of Articles about EI(2003-2014)

Based on table 4, vast majority of current researches about EI comes from full-time research staff with the high ratio of about two thirds. What’s more, hospital personnel and grassroots teachers are also important research subjects of EI and comparatively, the former had made larger contribution for the article number among the past 12 years. Notably, only a handful of articles are written by researchers of multiple identities, which means that cooperation researches across different departments and identities need to be strengthened.

(2)Geographic Distribution of Articles

As seen from geographic distribution, the research about EI for children with special educational needs shows obvious regional variations. Classify the articles by the first signature unit referring to commonly used geographic areas of China. The results are shown in table 5.

Table 5: Geographic Distribution of Articles about EI(2003-2014)

According to the above table,the main force of research about EI is located in East China followed by North China, Northeast China, Central China and Southwest China as the second place, while both South China and Northwest China are on the end of this ranking list. From the table, about 60% of all the articles are from East China and North China, and the former even accounts for one half of the total. This situation surprisingly coincides with the regional distribution of Chinese development of special education and related colleges and universities. And it also shows great the conspicuous regional variation of research about special education in mainland China.

Based on the geographic distribution of these articles, count the number of articles published by research units which had published three or more articles about EI. These units are the main research institution of EI in mainland China.

Table 6: The Number of Articles Published by Main Research Unit (2003-2014)

(Notes: ECNU= East China Normal U.; NTCSE= Nanjing Technical College of Special Education; HNU=Hangzhou Normal U.; CHFU= Children’s Hospital of Fudan U.; CNU=Chongqing Normal U.; CNU= Central China Normal University; BNU=Beijing Normal U.; CRRCCHI= Chinese Research and Rehabilitation Centre for Children with Hearing Impairment; JU=Jilin U.;SNU=Shanxi Normal U.)

As table 6 shows, the main force of research about EI is the universities and colleges with major of special education, including ECNU,NTCSE, CNU and BNU. Among them, ECNU has its leading strength of EI research and plays a much more important role than other units with 19 related articles. Moreover, CHFU and CRRCCHI are also important research force of EI in hospital system and CDPF (China Disabled Persons’ Federation) system.

(3)Authors with Different Number of Articles

Count article numbers of different authors among the 132 articles by regarding leading author as the criterion. The results are shown in figure3. Only one researcher has published the most related articles (3, specifically) and just 8 authors has 2 articles. Authors with only one article are up to 113 persons, which take up more than 90% of the whole authors. This data is much higher than the estimated number of 60% according to Lotka's law[9] and indicates that the research contingent of EI in mainland China is unformed to be developed.

Graph 3: Number of Researchers with One or More Articles

Research Method

As researchers have used various methods to study related issues about EI, count the number of articles according to different research methods by regarding the main method as the criterion for classification. The numbers are as follows.

Table 7: The Number of Articles according to Different Research Methods (2003-2014)

According to the table above, the most popular four research methods are theoretical study, questionnaire investigation, case study and experimental study. Among them, theoretical study is the most frequently used research method with the highest percentage of 59.1. Methods of interview, action research, measurement are less used with the percentage lower than 5. Generally speaking, there is a need to enrich the research methods of EI and use more frequently of empirical methods.

Further analyze number of articles using different methods according to years and show the results in the following table.

Table 8: Annual Distribution of Articles according to Research Methods( 2003-2014)

As seen from table 8, the research methods of EI in mainland China have gradually become rich and various. In recent years, the use frequency of some empirical methods like questionnaire investigation, case study and experimental study has been largely increased and more and more researchers start to use methods of interview, action research, measurement.

Research Content

Summarize the relevant researches on several themes according to its content and further analyze the annual variation of different themes.

Condition of Research Topic

Classify all the articles into different groups according to the following research topics: related to legislation; overview of relevant concepts; early family intervention; models or projects of EI, related to EI practice and current situation of EI. The results are shown in table 9.

Table 9: Number of Articles about EI according to Different Research Topic(2003-2014)

According to table9, researches related to EI practices and about overview of EI concepts attract the most attention as each share about 30% of the whole articles. By doing further analysis of the articles, we can find that most researches related to EI practices are about introducing certain intervention method, summarizing intervention experience or case study of intervention for some kind of exceptional children. And the study depth and normativity need to be improved. Theoretical studies are mostly about introducing the general framework of EI, exposition of the outcomes of EI or review of EI for certain kind of children. What’s more , early family intervention, including parents’ need and awareness, family supports, roles of family members is another research highlight. Comparatively, researches related to legislation is mainly about introducing policies and laws of other country, especially the USA and need to be pay more attention to.

Further count the number of articles about the five topics with relatively more researches according to years. The results are as follows.

Graph 4: Annual Distribution of Articles according to Research Topics( 2003-2014)

As seen from the above figure, articles about each topic have experienced a upward tendency in the 12 years and years from2010 to 2013 are research hotspot of EI. Researches related to EI practices and about overview of EI concepts have received sustained attention and this trend is likely to goes on in the future. Moreover, there is gradually increase of attention to early family intervention and models or projects of EI and the latter may be an important subsequent research focus.

Condition of Research Objects

EI for exceptional children involves several kinds of children with special needs. Categorize all articles according to its targeted children’s type which includes children with high-risk (HR), children with autism spectrum disorder(ASD), children with hearing impairment(HI), children with cerebral palsy(CP), children with learning disabilities(LD), children with attention deficiency and hyperactivity(ADHD), children with mental retardation(MR) and exceptional children as a whole. The article number of each kind of children is shown in table 10.

Table 10: The Number of Articles about EI according to Different Kinds of Children(2003-2014)

From the table above, about 40% of all articles aren’t targeted to any specific kind of children, but for all exceptional children as a whole. Besides that, children with ASD, HI, MR and HR are also considerable research objects in EI. Children with high-risk have received main attention from hospital personnel. And researches about EI for children with ADHD, CP and LD are comparatively less than other types above.

Further count the number of articles by published year according to children’s type and show the results in figure5.

Graph 5: Annual Distribution of Articles according to Children’s Type(2003-2014)

According to the figure above, there is a generally upward trend of the number of articles for all mentioned children’s type. Moreover, year of 2008 has experienced the reverse of researchers’ attention from children with HI to other types like ASD, HR and exceptional children as a whole. Concretely speaking, before 2008, researchers pay most attention to children with hearing impairment, but after 2008, exceptional children as a whole have become the predominant type. Besides that, children with LD and ADHD start to be concerned in recent years and children with ASD have increasing become the focus of the future research about EI.


Current Research Situation of Early Intervention in Mainland China

According to the bibliometric analysis above, researches about early intervention for exceptional children has made lots of progress in the 12 years from 2003 to 2014, with an average annual articles number of 4 in the beginning to those of 15 in the later. Apart from multiple geometric growth of average number of articles, the depth and breadth of research also have substantial developments. Specific developments of research about early intervention are as follows:

(1)Significant Increase in the Number of Articles and More Attention Has Been Paid to This Area

As seen from the article number and its year distribution, there is an overall upward tendency of research about early intervention in mainland China. Among the 12 years, year of 2010 to 2013 are the hot vintage of research with a sensible increase of article number. This current situation shows that with the development of special education, researchers have come to realize the importance of early intervention and explicitly regarded it as one essential research field of special education.

(2)Wide Distribution of Research Results and the Quality still Needs to Be Improved

In terms of source journal of related articles, research results of early intervention have a wide distribution from traditional educational periodicals namely special education, preschool education and higher education to partial journals of medical and health care and particular journal of social welfare. Professional journals of special education and journal of some universities and colleges are the main source of articles about early intervention. As for the research quality, Only a small proportion of articles are from core journals while the overwhelming majority are published on non-core journals. This condition indicates that the research quality of early intervention needs to be improved to enhance the authority and expand its influence.

(3)Variety of Research Subjects and the Research Team is still Unformed

According to the condition of research force, the research subjects of early intervention in mainland China are various. Full-time researchers, grassroots teachers and hospital personnel are all plays active roles in the research of this field and across-system cooperation in research has initial development. On the other hand, a stable and mature research team is still unformed as well as lack of core authors. In addition, there is also obvious gap of existing research force between different areas of China, which specifically means the east is much better than the west and north better than the south. This reality is very likely to become important limitations for the future study in this field.

(4) Increasing diversity of Research Methods and Constant Expanding of Research Content

In terms of the research methods used by related researchers, research methods of early intervention have gradually become diverse. To be more specific, even though theoretical study is still in the dominant place, use frequency of methods like questionnaire, interview and experimental study have increased and methods like action research, case study and measurement start to be used. Use of empirical research methods and comprehensive use of various methods will promote further development of this area. And there still should be some efforts to gradually change the current situation of too frequent use of theoretical method.

In term of the research content, various topics have been focused and both researches related to theory exposition and intervention practice have been emphasized. Research topics are more and more meticulous and deep-going. Early family intervention and models or projects of early intervention has become important research theme. Furthermore, more and more types of exceptional children have been targeted in current researches. Except from traditional early intervention for children with hearing impairment, children with ASD has already become new hot focus. In consideration of the follow-up effects of early intervention for high-risk children and other developmental disabilities, more research attention should be paid to the early intervention of these children.

Suggestions for Follow-up Researches Conclusions

Research of early intervention in mainland China in the past 12 years has achieved fruitful results as well as many problems. Based on the analysis above, following suggestions are proposed for follow-up researches: (1) accelerating construction of research team and to form stable research force; (2) enhance multidisciplinary and across-system cooperation research; (3) balance regional gap of research force and cultivate local research force in Northwest and South; (4) expand research content and pay more attention to some developmental disabilities.

Preparation of this report was supported by grant SC16XK082,”Study on School Adaptation of Exceptional Children under an International Comparative Perspective” from Social Science Planning office of Sichuan Province in China and grant GDT20165100007,”Study on Development of Rehabilitation and Education for People with Disabilities in China and Czech Republic” and also by the project IGA_PdF_2017_021 “The social environment at school and inclusive education”.


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Informace o autorovi

Guo Ling

Faculty of Special Education, Leshan Normal University

No.778,Binhe Road

614000  Shizhong District, Leshan, Sichuan


prof. PhDr. PaedDr. Miloň Potměšil, Ph.D.

Ústav speciálněpedagogických studií, Pedagogická fakulta, Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci

Žižkovo nám. 5

771 40  Olomouc

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