How One Woman And Her Son Made Me Forget My Loneliness In Shanghai

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My life as an autistic adult in China has been interesting, to say the least; and yes, I did say autistic. At the age of four, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). While abroad in China, I had become lonely, which was difficult to manage at times. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any friends, it was because I had wanted to connect with others that have autism as well. It can be difficult when you have little to no connection with people that are of a similar status, leading one to feel lonelier than the average person.

In Chinese, autism is translated into two different words; 自闭症 (zìbìzhèng), and 孤独症 (gūdúzhèng). Both translations relate the words such as “loneliness disease” because there is no actual translation for autism in Chinese. I was curious to find-out where other autistic children and young adults lived in China. This was part of my research for my graduate thesis, and luckily, I was able to find others.

A few months ago, I was introduced to a woman through my thesis advisor. This lady was a Shanghainese local named Linda*. She has a 12-year-old son with Asperger’s Syndrome, named Jimmy*, who was also born in the ‘Year Of The Rooster’. After meeting with both Linda and Jimmy, I never thought that someone like Linda would welcome me with open arms, giving me the courage to be myself, for the first time since landing in China.

Linda invited me to her home to spend the night, along with meeting her immediate family. Linda’s family were your typical three-person Chinese family, which was something I had seen often through my travels. Jimmy however, having Asperger’s Syndrome, was different, as I was able to truly see his intelligence through his various actions and communication strategies.

Jimmy is fully-communicative, however, has meltdowns when upset about simple things such as not knowing how to do his math homework. He prefers to learn Japanese over English, and was laughing at me when I was practicing for my Chinese speech. Actually, this was a speech that Linda had helped me prepare for her support group of mom’s with autistic children (stating Jimmy’s honesty, as I appreciated it). Jimmy also loves playing the erhu, which was a unique experience for me to note.

Whenever I would spend the night at Linda’s home, Jimmy would come to my bedroom door, then quietly say in English, “Good night, see you tomorrow.” I was impressed with how thoughtful Jimmy became, which made me feel even more comfortable within my new surroundings.

Even now, Linda continuously invites me over for the weekend, specifically to spend the night. She even invited me to go to Yunnan with her and Jimmy, in the beginning of August; a trip that I am looking forward to.

These acts of hospitality displayed by Linda and her family had moved me in a profound way. I felt like I didn’t offer anything in return for the gifts they had given me; the food they had fed me, the extra bed I had slept in, and the companionship they had provided. However, I was reassured by my advisor that I had done a lot more for Linda and her family than I had realized. And that was, that I had given them inspiration and hope for Jimmy, to provide more growth and opportunity for his future in more ways than one.

*names changed for their privacy

Holly Hollins
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  1. There are good people who would welcome someone like me, as a foreign student in the US, to participate their family gatherings, holidays, and so on. So do Chinese people who would also do that to a foreign student like you, as they understand it could be hard to live in a different country where you don’t have many connections.

    Even the few hours being with them, with a meal they fed me, makes a great difference to the holidays I have been spending here. How many times, I was driving on Christmas days, without seeing many cars on the street, and feel extreme lonely. However, they provide me a place and people to make me feel better, to present in a family warm setting.

    1. I have always welcomed my foreign friends into my home as well. Back in 2012, one of my really good friends I met through my undergraduate, spent Thanksgiving with my family. He was only in the US for one semester.

      I guess I should’ve mentioned that all my connections are in Chongqing, not in Shanghai. However, now I know more people in Shanghai than I do in Chongqing. I’m glad you were able to not feel alone on the holidays. Luckily there are some people in this world who have kind souls.

      1. That’s wonderful. I spent about 3 years in Hechuan, Chongqing, for college.

        Yes, there are. Without a family and living alone overseas, there is no way feels holiday, but to be with a group of people. And for foreigners like me, being invited to a native’s home to spend a holiday, is a very good way to know the local culture. I wish I could have a chance to had a host family while I was still a student, and the family has children young and old, so I get to experience the childhood in the US. But that’s just a fantasy, since I am too old to claim that.

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