Chen Xingrong's favorite activity is hopping onto the swing in the middle of the living room and dangling around.
The swing was set up by his father to help him learn how to swim without water.
"When he is happy, he jumps on the swing and smiles from ear to ear. This is his way of saying 'I am happy,'" said Chen's father Chen Xunhu. "But he is a big boy now and has grown as tall as 1.78 meters, and the swing has become a bit too small for him."
Chen Xingrong, 16, was diagnosed with autism when he was a baby. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions and by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. There is neither an effective cure nor a widely accepted treatment.
There are at least 10 million cases of autism in China, with more than 2 million children affected by this disease, according to an industry report released in 2015.
In spite of all the hardships in life, Chen Xingrong managed to become an outstanding swimmer, thanks to relentless training and the love and support of his family and community members.
Last year, he won five medals, including a gold, at the 11th National Games for Persons with Disabilities and the 8th National Special Olympics Games.
The story of Chen's family has come to the fore, as World Autism Awareness Day is observed on Saturday.
SWIMMING TOWARD VICTORY
Born in China's southernmost province of Hainan, Chen Xingrong could not utter a word until the age of two. After being diagnosed with autism, his parents were extremely worried.
"We did not understand why such a thing would happen to us," Chen Xunhu said, adding that he began traveling to big cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou to learn more about autism. During the process, he learned how to communicate properly with autistic people. He quit his job at a computer company and devoted his full attention to the topic of autism.
In 2012, Chen Xunhu learned that swimming could help people with autism enhance their vital capacity and articulation, so he spent three months learning how to swim by watching videos and reading books.
"I did not know how to swim myself, so I watched videos and read books about swimming. I spent three months teaching my son, but the efforts all went in vain," he recalled. "However, I did learn how to swim myself."
To his surprise, after another three months, Chen Xunhu discovered that his son had developed the ability to control his breath under water which significantly boosted his confidence and swimming soon became an inseparable part of the family.
The father laid the groundwork for his son's swimming lesson. On one wall of their house hangs a table for Chen Xingrong's routine exercises.
"I used to plan all of his exercises for him, but now it is all up to him," said senior Chen. "He decides how many exercises he wants to do, and we respect his choices. It's a process of self-management."
Two hand rings and a swing are suspended from the roof, all of which were installed by the father to help Chen Xingrong strengthen his muscles and learn swimming movements more precisely.
In October 2021, Chen Xunhu led his son and several other disabled athletes to participate in the 11th National Paralympic Games and the 8th Special Olympics in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
Chen junior managed to claim five medals, including a gold.
"It was really exciting," Chen Xunhu said. "My son looked so happy on the podium!"
BUILDING INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY
Besides swimming, learning basic life skills is also an important part of life for a teenager with autism.
"I hope that my son can live well on his own when we grow old," said Chen Xunhu.
To make people in their community understand autism better, Chen Xunhu made great efforts.
In 2010, an autism-themed film named Ocean Heaven hit the big screen in China. It depicts how a terminally ill father attempts to teach his son the necessary life skills to live a life without him.
"My wife and I watched the film in the theater," he said. "We sobbed uncontrollably because we could resonate with the film's characters. It took us some time to regain our composure before exiting the cinema."
Thereafter, Chen Xunhu organized about 500 people to watch the film together in the cinema.
"I wanted the public to know more about autistic people so as to reduce misunderstanding," said senior Chen.
Thanks to his father's resolute perseverance, Chen Xingrong has learned to buy food in the market in their neighborhood. He also does voluntary jobs at supermarkets and fast-food restaurants, such as arranging shelves and cleaning dining tables.
"He is good at skillfully arranging cluttered goods. He also likes to attend patients in clinics by monitoring their infusion bottles and covering the patients with quilts," said Chen Xunhu. "He is part of the community, and I hope he will live a wonderful life in the future."