Let's remember their names: mothers of autism children

Writer: Liu Minxia  |  Editor: Liu Minxia  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-03-28

This Sunday is World Autism Awareness Day. Autism, a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, has been widely recognized only in the last few decades and is still poorly understood worldwide.

China has started providing government subsidies for families with autistic children, but these benefits are typically only available to younger autistic children. However, among the roughly 10 million autistic people in the country, 80% are over the age of 14, according to estimates from China’s autism education sector. Many parents, especially mothers, tried hard to figure out their own ways to teach their autistic children life skills as they worry about what will happen when they are no longer around to provide care.

In Shenzhen, such efforts are also being felt. There is an orchestra composed entirely of autistic youths. It is the first of its kind in China and was founded by Sun Lili, the mother of Beibei (full name: Sun Shouning), an autistic person born in 1983. Hoping to help children like her son gain respect from their peers and the society and perhaps to make a living on their own one day, Sun had the orchestra registered with the city’s civil affairs bureau in October 2013. She also hopes autistic people find companionship through the orchestra, which is named Shenzhen Aite Orchestra. “Aite” in Chinese pronounced the same way as English word “at,” which stands for “autism team,” according to the orchestra. Since its inception, the orchestra has provided 1,000 music training classes to its members, staged more than 100 performances and won more than 10 awards in the past nine years. Parents of members say their children have been benefitting from the program and are gradually becoming more accepted at school. 

This Sunday, on World Autism Awareness Day, the orchestra is scheduled to stage a performance in the Sky Concert Hall of One Shenzhen Bay, Nanshan District, and 34 members will perform. During one of their rehearsals prior to the performance, our photographer captured some of the touching moments of the autistic performers interacting with their supportive and attentive mothers.

Autistic performers and their mothers and teachers pose for a group photo after a rehearsal at the Nanshan Culture and Sports Center on Monday. Photos by Sun Yuchen

Sun Lili, founder of Shenzhen Aite Orchestra, talks about the upcoming performance prior to a rehearsal Monday.

Sun Lili and her son, Beibei. Beibei started to learn playing piano at the age of 20 and attained the 10th level five years later. He can also play electronic organ, guitar and many other musical instruments and has won a number of awards in music competitions in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Beibei also likes painting and swimming.

Autistic performer Daifeng (full name: Li Daifeng) and his mother Hu Shili. Daifeng, 17, started to learn to play musical instruments when he was a teenager, and now he can play piano, electric piano, cucurbit flute, and ocarina very well and is now learning to play the panpipe. Since joining the orchestra, [dr1] he has become more cheerful, and now enjoys time on the stage.   

Autistic performer Hanhan (full name: Zhang Han), his mother Lin Lan (L) and his teacher Zhang Junjian (C). He likes to play the piano, paint, read books and sing songs. He is also a little chatterbox. If you want to find someone to talk to, consider Hanhan.

Autistic performer Tiantian (full name: Chen Rongtian) and his mother Li Lin. Tiantian is a cheerful and understanding boy who often helps his mother with household chores at home. Although he is not good at speech, he has loved music since he was a child. He started learning to play piano at the age of 6 and has reached the 10th level. When he is alone, he likes to listen to music and play the piano. He also enjoys time on a Metro train or on a bus. Tiantian joined the orchestra in 2019 and he is now a piano and electronic piano player.

Autistic performer Shanyun (full name: Xu Shanyun), his mother Gu Feiyan (C) and orchestra founder Sun Lili (L). He is the tallest in the orchestra. He has participated in many public performances with the orchestra.

Autistic performer Yihao (full name: Zhang Yihao) and his mother Long Yuefeng. He is a keyboard player of the orchestra. He said: "I am especially grateful for the company of the orchestra members and for all the loving people who support us. My steps of progress are very slow but I hope I can make a little bit of progress every day. I have some little problems, for example: I bite my nails when I'm nervous; I talk to myself when I'm excited; and sometimes I'm a bit moody. Thank you very much for your tolerance and acceptance of me."

Autistic performer Xiaorui (full name: Huang Hongrui) and his mother Tang Xiaozeng. He is a drummer of the orchestra. Kind, optimistic, strong and confident, Xiaorui likes to play the drum, African drum and piano. He also likes to draw and sing. In recent years, he has participated in nearly 100 public performances, and twice participated in the recordings of CCTV programs with the orchestra. 

A scene from the rehearsal Monday. 

Sun Lili, founder of Shenzhen Aite Orchestra.