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« Kids with autism need help, but so do parents | Main | Mental health and autism, one teen's tragic story »


Meeting Bei Bei - a virtuoso

Bei Bei
Bei Bei Sun Shouning, who is severely autistic, learned to play piano at age 20. Now he performs professionally. (Randy Risling, Toronto Star)

No matter where you live, parents of an autistic child face the same problems, worries and fears.

Late last month, the Star visited Bei Bei Sun Shouning, a 29-year-old autistic man who lives with his parents, Sun Li Li and Shou Song in Shenzhen, China.

The family lives in a lovely, two-floor apartment with an incredible view of the crowded, smoggy, industrial city of Shenzhen, home to 12 million people.

Sun Li Li gave up her job as a government worker to take care of her son who was rejected by public schools due to his special needs. When he was born, no one had ever heard of autism. She struggled to cope with his needs and in 1989, she read an article about the disorder in the paper and realized this is what her son had.

Bei Bei hid upstairs when Star photographer Randy Risling and myself arrived. It took almost an hour before he'd come down.

When he finally did, it was to get some cookies. He avoided eye contact with us, but he smiled and laughed with his parents. Bei Bei never stops smiling.

Bei Bei's incredible paintings hung throughout the apartment. He learned how to paint after watching a TV show. His landscapes are bright and astounding, almost professional.

But Bei Bei's real, innate talent appears when he sits at a piano. He took the instrument up in his early 20s after listening to his father play. His parents were stunned when he sat at the keyboard and began to play.

Sun Li Li tried to find teachers for him but it proved to be a difficult task. But she figured out a way to teach him by getting the piano instructor to tell her first what to do and then she turned around and instructed Bei Bei.

Sun Li Li is a serene, quiet woman with a wide, pleasant smile. Her devotion to her son is undending.

Bei Bei is now an accomplished pianist -- he played a collection of classics for Randy and me -- once he got over his shyness. We sat and listened to Bei Bei play Chopin and the haunting classic Liu Yang River.

At least once a month, Bei Bei plays piano in the lobbies and bars of luxury hotels, his mother not far from his side. 

I'll never forget the sound of Bei Bei's playing, and the look of pride on his mother's face.

Read more about Bei Bei in my story



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The Autism Project

  • Welcome to the Toronto Star's autism blog, a daily amalgam of breaking news stories, features, trends and ideas flowing from our Autism Project. The blog is written by Star reporters: Kate Allen, Andrea Gordon, Laurie Monsebraaten, Kris Rushowy, Leslie Scrivener, and Tanya Talaga.

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