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Father helps autistic son become champion swimmer

Updated: 2022-04-14 09:04 ( Xinhua )
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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'," says 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 are at least 10 million cases of autism in China, with more than 2 million of which are children, 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 eighth National Special Olympic Games.

Born in Hainan province, Chen Xingrong could not utter a word until he was 2 years old. After being diagnosed with autism, his parents were worried.

"We did not understand why such a thing would happen to us," Chen Xunhu says, adding that he began traveling to big cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 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 months learning how to swim by watching videos and reading books.

"I spent three months teaching my son, but the efforts were in vain," he recalls.

To his surprise, after another three months, he discovered that his son had developed the ability to control his breath under water, which significantly boosted his confidence, and swimming soon became a key activity of the family.

The father laid the groundwork for his son's swimming lessons. On one wall of their home hangs a table for Chen Xingrong's routine exercises.

"I used to plan all his exercises for him, but now it is all up to him," says the father. "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, the father took his son, and several other disabled athletes, to participate in the 11th National Paralympic Games and the eighth Special Olympics in Xi'an, Shaanxi province.

His son managed to claim five medals, including a gold.

"It was really exciting," says the father. "My son looked so happy on the podium!"

As well as 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," says the father.

Chen Xunhu has made great efforts to make people in their community understand autism better.

In 2010, an autism-themed film, titled 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 without him.

"My wife and I watched the film in the theater," he says. "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, the father 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," says the father.

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," says Chen Xunhu.

"He is part of the community, and I hope he will live a wonderful life in the future."

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