Have you ever watched the 1988 comedy-drama Rain Man?
In the film, Dustin Hoffman plays the role of Raymond, an autistic man with a seemingly strange temperament who has difficulty communicating with others. However, he is gifted with a keen sensitivity to numbers. Although Raymond has difficulty communicating in words, he quietly cherishes his brother (played by Tom Cruise), tugging on the heartstrings of the audience.
In the film, Raymond's speech impediment leads him to pronounce his name as “Rain Man," a term that would later be adopted by the general public to refer to people with autism. And China is no stranger to the word.
Unlike what many people think, people with autism can manage having a job and are capable of taking care of themselves, just like any other person.
Chen Meng was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. Now, at the age of 25, he is a baker at the Kangnazhou Rainman Bakery, an organization helping autistic people with vocational training.
Chen has many traits that separate him from others, ones that play to his advantage and others that seemingly hinder him.
He prefers to ride his scooter alone for five kilometers to work.
He also becomes peculiarly anxious and agitated when facing unexpected situations.
At the same time, he is meticulous and extra careful when executing plans, which gives him a big edge as a baker.
When at work, Chen has only one concern – to make the best cookies possible.
“I only want to make delicious cookies and make my guests happy," said Chen.
When not kneading and rolling pastries, Chen also plays the trumpet and hones his oil painting skills.
Chen is one of the lucky ones. It is not uncommon for autistic people to fail to secure a job due to a variety of reasons, which include misconceptions and social prejudice towards them.
Few people know or accept that autistic people can rely on themselves and can fit in a society that respects and nurtures their talent, as well as recognizing that they have a voice.
For example, his love of music led Chen and his friends to organize a small orchestra in their spare time, with members playing various instruments including the guitar, Chinese zither and cello.
According to a study from Blue Papers titled "Needs of Parents with Autistic Children in China," there are about 1.25 million autistic people aged 18 to 35 in China. Most of them are looking for vocational training and employment support, but 93 percent of their parents believe that such services are out of reach.
Fortunately, more and more social organizations have started to take the welfare of autistic people into account. In August this year, a viral post on Chinese social media, which was commonly known as “one yuan for one painting,” presented over 30 pieces of paintings produced by people who had autism, cerebral palsy or Down's syndrome. The inner world they expressed on canvases touched many people and raised the public’s awareness of their conditions.
he page of social warefare activity “one yuan for one painting”
The bakery and other social welfare initiatives are just the beginning. Hope remains that with support from society, autistic people in China can be like Raymond in the film – finding themselves fully integrated in society and treated on equal footing with others.
Cameraman: Li Ming
Film editor: Wu Yupei, Li Enpeng
Story written by: Zhu Siqi
English editor: Nadim Diab