Children with autism are often referred to as“children of the stars”.
They are curious about everything they see, and love to express their emotions in a unique way. They are like the stars in the sky, twinkling alone in the distant, dark night sky.
Despite their limitations, many of the“star children”prove to be gifted in several aspects.
Individuals with autism face communication and social barriers, which may limit their ability to form deep emotional connections or communicate verbally in their daily lives.
However, within their own community, they provide a familiar and reliable presence to one another. During rest, they can sit together in peace, hold hands, and share smiles without the need for words.
Shenzhen Lions Club Step up service team care for AiteEnsembleaction.
(Photo: Aite Ensemble Official Account)
The Aite Ensemble from Shenzhen, China, is a group of young people on the autistic spectrum, aged between 15 and 39, who use music to connect with the world around them.
They are the first ensemble in China composed entirely of people with autism, which has been active for eight years since its establishment in 2013
This ensemble’s musical journey began with just one member.
Beibei, a young man with severe autism, began studying the piano at age 20 and quickly shown ability and enthusiasm for the instrument. He could sit intently on a bench for two or three hours practicing the piano, got his Grade 10 in five years and even got a part-time job where he played the piano in the lobby of a hotel in Shenzhen
Beibei (Photo:Shenzhen Special Zone Daily)
Beibei’s development had inspired his mother,Sun Lili,to explore the musical potential for children with autism.
Sun Lili (Photo; EyeShenzhen)
She shared,“As I meet more and more parents with children suffering from autism, I’ve realized that there is a need for an ensemble that can bring everyone together.”
Sun believed that long-term training with the ensemble will not only help the children improve their self-confidence and abilities, but will also allow parents to unite and seek out social resources for their children.
In 2013, the idea of establishing an ensemble initially emerged.But it was a bumpy ride at the time when it started.
First, there was no training place or teacher. Sun decided to use her home as a classroom and invited Beibei’s piano teacher in for the ensemble.
Besides, members are unstable. For a long time, the number of members remained at around four or five, with one or two occasionally joining and leaving. So very often one child was responsible for playing two voices.
Autistic performer Zhang Hanhan, his mother Lin Lan and his teacher Zhang Junjian.
As it takes longer for autistic children to process information, their mothers must memorize all the key points in class and practice the musical pieces with the children at home until all the chord changes and scales are well commanded.
After the children have rehearsed and ready, there is another headache – where to perform. Parents have looked everywhere for opportunities to put their children on stage, nursing homes, property sales exhibitions, corporate cultural performances, TV programs, small competitions ……
They secured its first performance chance in 2013. It was on a concrete open-air stage in a village with a sparse audience. Wearing full costumes in searing heat, the ensemble members brought their first musical piece to the audience.
Gradually, the ensemble became better known.
Aite Ensemble (Photo: Aite Ensemble Official Account)
By hosting their own “Star Concert,” the children stepped onto bigger stages. The first “Star Concert” was held at the music theme hall of the Futian District Culture Center in Shenzhen. The venue, with a capacity of 300 people, received registrations from over 700 people.
The true understanding between the members of the band is evident as soon as the drummer, Xiaorui, raises his baton. Without hesitation, all members place their hands on their keys or strings in preparation to play. Once the baton strikes three times, the music begins instantly.
In this moment, they seem to radiate light from their bodies, relying on one another as teammates.
(Photo: Shenzhen Special Zone Daily)
According to their music director, “It’s strange-during rehearsals offstage, they may encounter more or less minor issues, but as soon as they step onto the stage, they showcase their very best.”
In every external performance over the past eight years, they have rarely made mistakes.
The Future Hope
From one person to 12 members, the Aite ensemble has undergone a difficult yet impressive 10-year journey. “Voices” from “children of the stars” are heard by more people now.
Nowadays, an increasing number of parents hope their children can attain the level of skill showcased by the orchestra members. Parents of children with autism in different places, such as Chengdu, Changchun, and Beijing are coming to seek out the orchestra in Shenzhen, with the aim of exchanging ideas and learning from their success.
Aite Ensemble and Beijing Green Grass Choir “Journey of Time” Concert.
(Photo: Aite Ensemble Official Account)
“Through TikTok, we hope to reach a wider audience and raise awareness about the capabilities of children with autism. If they can do well in music, why not in other forms of art? We hope to serve as a prime example of how the Aite orchestra can flourish, and extend its benefits to more children,” shared Lily Sun.
As of 2019, there are already approximately over 10 million people with autism spectrum disorders in China.Children under 14with autism are still growing at a rate of 200,000 per year.Besides, there are countless families of older autistic people who face the dilemma of having nowhere to care for their children when they grow up into adults.
For more than 3,000 days since October 2013, these special performers and parents have never stopped moving forward and facing life positively. Setting out may not be difficult, what is difficult is the confidence and determination to keep going all the way.
The Aite ensemble wrote a song called“The Most Beautiful Star”.
The lyrics read:
-Mum, why are we children of the stars?
-Sweetheart, because you are like the stars in the sky, performing alone yet shining brightly, the most beautiful one.