In China, one in 100 people are thought to suffer from some form of autism, a disability that has only been formerly diagnosed in the country for about thirty years. Partly because of the slow recognition, autistic people in China face many challenges trying to integrate into society. But a special orchestra has been founded in southern city Shenzhen for children with autism, in the hopes that their talents will earn them the respect they deserve.
Yihao is the newest member of the Autistic Orchestra, founded 6 months ago in Shenzhen by a group of parents of autistic children. Yihao’s parents both quit their jobs in their home town and moved to the city in the hopes of finding better treatment for their autistic son. The dad now drives a taxi to support the family, while the mom cares for Yihao.
After years of therapy and training, Yihao is more expressive and handles his moods better. At his school though he’s still the one left out.
"One day he came back home crying. I asked him why. He said he’s not happy with his school life, classmates don’t like him. I feel so sorry for him.”
Things started changing when he joined the Autistic Orchestra four months ago. Every weekend, Yihao joins other autistic children in playing music, building special bonds between them. Yihao, who can’t usually stand being touched by anyone, now sits comfortably next to his fellow musicians. Parents say the orchestra also offers them support.
"We, the parents, are sometimes closer than relatives. Maybe your family doesn’t understand what you’re going through, but here almost everyone has felt the same more or less.” Leheng’s mother said.
Children with autism face many obstacles while growing up, and their parent too find themselves feeling helpless at times, but when it come to the question of giving up hope, there’s no chance.
"Moms are always moms, there is no way for moms to escape. There is no option for moms to say give up on these children.” Leheng’s mother said.
The parents say their children are gradually becoming more accepted at school, but their different behavior unavoidably makes it hard for them to fit in.
That’s why they founded this orchestra, hoping these children will gain respect from their peers and the society, and perhaps to make a living on their own one day.
Experts say China is home to an estimated 13 million children and adults affected by autism, which makes autism the nation’s most prevalent brain development disorder.
Increased media attention, and events such as Autism Awareness Day continue to raise public awareness of their needs.