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Banding together in a bid to raise awareness

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-09-07 08:10
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Deftly fixing sheet music, calibrating the piano, and testing the microphone, Wan Shicheng, 25, looked around the stage, briefly introduced the band members, and began to sing.

The harmonious flow of music made it hard for the audience to imagine that it was a band composed of people with intellectual disabilities.

Wan's intelligence quotient, or IQ, is 40, equivalent to that of a three or four-year-old child. The guitarist Zhang Mingqiu, keyboardist Chen Tairan and drummer Huang Shi all have autism.

They were drawn from a help center for parents of people with intellectual disabilities in Yue-yang city, Central China's Hunan province. On Mother's Day last year, the band was formed under the guidance of the center's instructor Peng Xiaokang.

Peng became a volunteer at the center in 2019. With a music education background, he was surprised to find that many of the people there harbored artistic talent.

He was particularly impressed by Zhang, who had been playing drums since childhood; Chen, who could play the piano; Huang, who was sensitive to rhythm; and Wan, who loved to imitate the singing of celebrities. It inspired Peng to form a band.

According to Peng, the band practicing is, itself, a positive form of therapy, helping the members develop positive behaviors and aiding the preparation for their social integration.

It takes them a bit longer to master the songs, but Peng is pragmatic. "There is no shortcut but patience," he says.

As Peng expected, the band's initial rehearsals proved challenging. Unruly behavior, nervousness and communication issues abounded, while some members also struggled to adapt to a less rigid schedule.

"Children with autism strictly follow their own 'rules'," says Peng. Rehearsals are a process of negotiation for them. "Only when they realize that their love for music and performance is more important than their 'rules' will they give in."

Gradually, the four members became less resistant and started actively practicing and even became keen to perform.

Despite a few initial setbacks, as their performance experience accumulated, the young musicians began to gain recognition. They even donated a portion of their income from commercial performances to social welfare organizations.

"Their performance has inspired many families just like theirs," Peng says, adding that many people with intellectual disabilities are "stuck" at home with nothing to do.

On Aug 19, the band toured Changsha, the capital of Hunan, to perform in front of an audience of charity organizations, volunteers, people with intellectual disabilities, and their families and friends. As the band marked its first anniversary, they hoped to make more people aware of the group.

"We know exactly how much effort they have put in," says Jiang Ying from the neighboring Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, who was on an exchange trip at an organization that helps families and children with Down syndrome.

"We definitely want to come and support them, to learn from such education models, and hope to promote it in my city," she says.

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