Home>Service> Global Love of Lives Award> 18th Fervent Global Love of Lives Award> Guan-Wen Chen Swimming out of Autistic, Playing notes of Hope
I want to thank Guan-Wen, my dear boy, for your company. I owe much of the revelations in my life to you. Thank you Guan-Wen, because you let all of us believe that where there is a will, there is a way. If we persist, there will be a miracle.
-Ching-I Chang, Mother of Guan-Wen
Mother’s Love, Help from Others
Guan-Wen Chen was diagnosed with moderate autistic disorders when he was 2 years old. His language, learning, and communication skills develop much slower than average kids. Even a simple gesture such as buttoning his clothes may take him a few years to learn. With his mother by his side and her unlimited love for him, he goes through occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, ABA therapy, hydrotherapy, equestrian therapy, art therapy and many others. All of these therapies share the same objective, to enable Guan-Wen to learn in school with others children, and to bring out Guan-Wen’s talent as a swimmer and musician.
Besides from his mother, Guan-Wen was lucky to be helped by many others. He is never alone on his journey. Therapists and doctors instructed Guan-Wen’s mother carefully so that she could absorb necessary knowledge that would benefit Guan-Wen’s treatment and ease his autistic symptoms. Under the loving care of his teachers, Guan-Wen is provided with better and friendlier learning environment to learn and grow amongst his peers. It was under these favorable conditions that he became an excellent athlete and music prodigy in spite of his special needs. His classmates understood Guan-Wen’s condition after their teacher’s explanations, and they were happy to learn and make friends with him. They even formed a 509 charity band to contribute back to the society with their music skills.
Guan-Wen continues to breakthrough the limits of autistic under the encouragements of his family, teacher and classmates. He broke the record twice in a year at National Huei-Shing 50 meter freestyle Championship and brought home the gold medal. As a musician, he came in first place three years in a row at National Disability Talent Championships with his perfect pitch and by playing notes of hope. Not only does he wish to honor his country with his talent in swimming, he wishes to participate in charity works with his music. It is no wonder that he stood out from 2341 candidates around the world who were nominated for their love for life, and he is indeed merit of the 18th Global Love of Lives Award awarded by Chou Ta-Kuan Foundation.
Parents Are Their Child’s Therapists for Life
Guan-Wen Chen was born in 2011, he is currently in his first year at Ming-Hu Middle School. He was diagnosed with moderate autistic disorders when he was two years old. At his age it was abnormal that he did not have any language skills nor will he interact with others. His parents were so anxious that they brought him to hospitals of all sizes, and to wherever they heard that were offer early treatments. They will go anywhere that offers effective treatments in hope of improving Guan-Wen’s condition. Guan-Wen went through intensive occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, ABA therapy, hydrotherapy, equestrian therapy, art therapy and many others from the age of three.
What pains Guan-Wen’s mother the most is his scalp acupuncture therapy. The therapy involves sticking 17-20 needles on Guan-Wen’s head. Guan-Wen often cries his heart out during the therapy, and his mother would hug him helplessly, hold him in her arms until he falls asleep. She then waits till all the needles are removed, and then she brings him home. They would repeat all the therapies every week, obeying the therapist who once said, “you have to train at least eight hours a day, and it will only work if you train intensively.” Guen-Wen’s mother strictly abides by these rules, besides from running to and from Guan-Wen’s treatments; she repeats each gesture that the therapist has taught her intensively at home.
Even the simplest gesture of buttoning his own clothes took Guan-Wen’s mother three years to teach him. With Guan-Wen’s mother’s persistence, he finally learned how to button his own clothes in first grade. His mother believes that he needs to be taught for him to be ever able to learn. If she doesn’t teach him, she believes that he will never learn it naturally in his life. All of the learning processes were like this for Guan-Wen, he needs to repeat several, even hundreds of times more than others before he can learn it.
This is a very difficult journey for both the parent and child, but as Guan-Wen’s mother sees the improvements her child has made little by little, she feels that all is worthwhile, and is deeply moved by their hard work.
Guan-Wen also has sensory integration disorders, resulting in a sensitive tactile defensive system that makes him anxious about daily routines such as cutting his hair, washing his hair, or sitting on the toilet. His mother listened to the therapist’s suggestion and prepared a bean box at home. She fills the box with all kinds of beans and uses them to massage his whole body to reduce Guan-Wen anxiety and sensitivity. Finally, his mother’s effort was rewarded when Guan-Wen starts to mimic people’s talking and is more willing to look at people.
It was until Guan-Wen was five-years old did his parents finally found a kindergarten that would accept him. However, since Guan-Wen cannot focus on learning and cannot stay still, the school is only willing to let him spend half the day at school, allowing him to go to his treatments with his mother in the afternoon.
Breakthrough the Barriers, Never Give Up
Despite intensive treatments, Guan-Wen’s sensitive tactile system still poses as a problem for him. His mother heard that swimming is the best method of desensitization, ad started to look everywhere for a coach. Average coaches are unwilling to teach autistic children, so it took a while before Guan-Wen’s mother found Luen-Chung Chen Coach who served at Taipei city Disabled Swimming Association. Coach Chen has been training disabled children to swim for a long time, and is very patient with Guan-Wen. He would hold Guan-Wen in his arms to let him slowly come in contact with the water, and he would gradually develop the trust between the two of them with his family beside the pool. His mother would take Guan-Wen all the way to his classes so that he can learn to swim. They waited for a miracle, and the miracle came. It took six months before Guan-Wen is willing to put his head in the water; it was a breakthrough that made his family all very excited. This little step in the water miraculously improved Guan-Wen’s sensitive tactile condition by a great measure.
Guan-Wen has autisms, thus persistence is both his weakness and his strength. He has greater persistence and endurance compared to others, and he is willing to stick to his plan to the end once he made up his mind. Thanks to his daily swimming exercises, he swam across the Sun Moon Lake at nine years old, finishing the swim in less than twelve minutes. He was the youngest contestant from Taipei city and impressed all the coaches with his performance. His everyday training paid off again when he won two gold medals in backstroke swimming and butterfly swimming in his school’s swimming contest in fifth grade. He later went on to break the records two year in a row at National Huei-Shing 50 meter freestyle Championship.
Perfect Pitch, Playing Notes of Hope
Guan-Wen’s mother found out about his passion for music when he was in kindergarten. She noticed that he could listen to his favorite pieces over and over again. His mother attempted to teach him how to read notes so that he can learn to play from them, but Guan-Wen could barely sit still, let alone learns the notes. One day his mother discovered that Guan-Wen didn’t need to read the notes to play Bach’s minuet with one finger on the piano. His mother was very excited to learn that Guan-Wen plays by listening to the notes instead of reading them. From then on, she did not force him to read the notes because she wanted to preserve his passion for music. Instead, she let him listen to a great amount of music he loves, and extend his learning time little by little. She managed to teach him the piano through this method.
By mere chance, Guan-Wen and his other partner signed up for the 5th Four-Hands Piano Music Contest for the Disabled. It was the first time Guan-Wen participated in a music contest. Not only was he constantly looking around once he got on the stage, he couldn’t even quiet down during his performance. His parents were very anxious in the audience seats because they were afraid his points would be deducted due to his behavior. However, their performance was met with deafening applause and eventually they won the first place in the north district contest. Guan-Wen later went on to win the national championship two years in a row. These achievements encouraged Guan-Wen greatly and made him more confident in himself. He later performed at his solo concert when he was in fifth grade, preforming multiple instruments such as piano, violin, and jazz drumming, charming the audience with his talent and enthusiasm.
Drumming: Practice Makes Perfect
Guan-Wen is immensely talented in music. One time, he had a chance to play the violin and was since intrigued by the instrument. His parents would like him to join a musical band to connect with more people and thought it’d be nice for him to try practicing another instrument. At first, he was very frustrated because he failed to meet the instructor’s standard. He needed to practice again and again. Diligently, he practiced over and over again. Finally in grade 3, he passed the entrance exam to Ming Hu Elementary School String Orchestra. However, he was not able to read the scores, nor was he looking at the conductor during group practice. His mother felt very pressured for her son’s not coping well with the practice. But later on, she looked at it from another perspective: Guan-Wen is being trained to follow the group’s rules and fit in! If he could learn to cooperate with people, it’d be a new stage in his life.
At first, she had to sit next to him through practice and record the whole process on camera. When they went home, she’d play the video and pause to show Guan-Wen how and when to pay attention to the conductor, and the meanings of different gestures. He had to practice over 10 times for one small detail, while his peers just needed just one. But he was willing to put in extra efforts to catch up with his peers. God helps those who help themselves. Now, Guan-Wen can cooperate with his peers and the conductor very well, and has participated in performances and exceled in contests with the orchestra. Meanwhile, he was interviewed on the Listening Eye show on the public TV channel.
When learning songs in Taiwanese dialect, Guan-Wen’s voice was extraordinarily beautiful. His teacher noticed that and chose him as a representative of the class to a contest. He won the 3rd place for his debut, and his classmates have admired his singing more ever since.
Aside from singing, playing the piano and the violin, Guan-Wen also enjoys playing drums. On 2010’s World Autism Awareness Day, he was invite to perform at Taipei National University of the Arts. In grade 3, with Tamkang University Alumni Wind Ensemble, he was invited by South Korea to perform at the World Wind Band Festival in Korea on behalf of Taiwan. He was the drummer and gave an amazing performance. The local TV channel even introduced him to the audience in Korean: the 10-year-old drummer from Taiwan! His classmates saw his hard work. Guan-Wen was voted as the role model of the year in both grade 4 and 6 in elementary school. It was of great encouragement to him!
In elementary school, Guan-Wen made a lot of progress. At first, he closed himself off in his own reading. Then he could look at the teacher in class, and sometimes even raise his hand and answer simple questions. He would run out of the classroom when he felt anxious; now he can sit through the whole class. He would stomp, bite his own hand, and cry on the floor when he was emotionally tense; now he takes deep breath to calm himself down, and knows how to express himself in simple words. Every little step on his way of growth comes from his tireless efforts over the years.
Class 509 Living its Dreams
In Ming-Hu Elementary School, Guan-Wen was fortunate to have had the support and help from many teachers and classmates. As he was a 5th-grader, Taipei City’s Department of Education held 2013 Children’s Month Activity, theming “Living Your Dreams.” Guan-Wen’s teachers thought he was a perfect fit for the event and began to plan for him to live his dreams. Mr. Zhang Shuli, his then homeroom teacher was very supportive of this plan. Zhang thought that Guan-Wen received everyone’s help from teachers, classmates, and volunteers in school; it’d be great if Guan-Wen could help others to make them feel what he felt after receiving help: happy and content.
In his classmates’ eyes, Guan-Wen is a music king at school. Although he cannot express himself clearly, he communicates with people in music. A project called 509 Dream was then launched. Class 509’s 25 students with Guan-Wen formed 509 Band and presented a Christmas concert in 2013. With singing and music, they brought happiness to people around them and celebrated a happy holiday with the elderly in an elderly home in Neihu, Taipei.
As the band was formed, Mr. Zhang Shuli led the students to perform in accordance with textbook themes and featured Guan-Wen as the lead. With his musical talent and his classmates’ efforts, he was able to overcome difficulties and warm the elderly’s heart. It was sweet and unforgettable memory for him before his graduation.
In late March, 2013, the 509 band had performed a “street show” in school, presenting songs like Das klinget so herrlich. The recorder, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, bass saxophone, French horn, etc, all worked well with Guan-Wen and together they brought beautiful and touching music to the school. That day, the hallways were packed with people who wanted to see the band’s performance. It was all beautiful music. No one could tell Guan-Wen was autistic. Music moved everyone.
With the successful experience, the band grew more confident about the Christmas concert. Meanwhile, they were informed of the good news of winning the “Living Your Dream” competition, and were to make a presentation near the end of March. Every member of the band was greatly cheered! The teacher sent 6 students as representatives to receive the award and share their dream project at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. With his experience memorizing script while teaching ocarina, Guan-Wen did a good job talking on the stage with two classmates. They talked and sang. Guan-Wen even played the ocarina during the presentation. When they received the certificate form the head of the department, they knew they had already begun to realize their dreams!
Furthermore, 509 Band was invited to perform at the zoo for a Children’s event. This was the first time for the band to celebrate Children’s Day with a charity performance. Everyone was excited about the show. Among all the wonderful performances, 509 Band was the most popular one. The band showcased singing, violin playing, ocarina tutorial, and handicraft tutorial. There were also staff and a poster there for raising people’s awareness of autism.
Later, 509 Band started to prepare for the Christmas charity event. Some members planed the program, some made the poster, some designed the invitation card, some helped Guan-Wen practice his script, and Guan-Wen was responsible for emcee, keyboard, and ocarina tutorial. Thanks to Yafang the volunteer, 509 Band was able to learn and perform old songs to get closer to the elderly. With the warm Christmas wishes, 509 Band shared their beautiful music with not just the elementary school but also the community. Guan-Wen’s angelic smile and piano playing were of joyful company to the elderly. The elderly had a pleasant time singing, enjoying the music, and laughing.
Charity Ocarina Tutorial with Guan-Wen
Guan-Wen has been making a lot of progress with many people’s help. Music and swimming have been two of his strong suits. Winning one contest after another has made him more and more confident! Guan-Wen also enjoys interacting with people in music. With the parents and teachers’ help, Guan-Wen began to teach ocarina. Now he has turned from a receiver of help to a giver, and brought happiness to his students. Through music, he communicates with them in the most genuine way. He has gotten much closer to people around him thanks to his own ocarina classes, and brought people closer together at the same time.
Guan-Wen is very appreciative of all the invitations from charity groups for him to have many opportunities to perform on stage and spread love and happiness with his piano and violin skills. He actively participated in many charity events, including Taipei City and New Taipei City’s Autism Association activities and fund-raising events. At 2014 Autism Foundation’s Beitou Workshop Opening Ceremony, he performed as a way of contributing to the community. In the same year, Guan-Wen participated in the World Autism Day’s See the Light and Find the Light event at Taipei 101. He performed with Sam Lee the singer. It was a wonderful demonstration of fluent communications through music.
Born with disadvantages, Guan-Wen still grew to be positive and optimistic. In 2013, he was recommended by his teachers and classmates to join the Presidential Education Award. Now he has already passed the second selection stage, and is going for the top award!
From Guan-Wen’s life story, we saw the power of persistence. Challenged, he never gave up and put in extra efforts. People could do it; so could he. In the future, he hopes to pay back to the society with what he has learned and benefited from it. He hopes to be a pool guard and bring happiness to people around him with drum, violin, piano, and singing, to make the society as joyful as it is peaceful.