Half an hour before class, art teacher Dong Fangyi started to prepare for the day, putting out brushes and canvas with the help of his 14-year-old student Dazhi (pseudonym).
The scene in the class was a little out of the ordinary as some students were silent and concentrating while others were restless and excited, banging on their desks.
All of the children in the class have been diagnosed with autism, romantically known as "children like the stars" in China.
The painting studio was founded by a public welfare service center in Xi'an, the capital city of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, which mainly involves parents of children with mental disabilities from more than 600 households.
With an operation model of mutual assistance, the parents are not forcing their children to rehabilitate but allowing them to develop their abilities through proper social interaction.
"Through painting, they can improve their artistic creativity and concentration while gaining some confidence," said Chen Ao, founder of the center, also a mother of her autistic child.
Having been teaching the children for more than five years, Dong is now one of their best friends. He himself has an autistic patient in his family and organized the art class with other parents of their own accord.
"For those showing stronger learning abilities, they are given more free rein to create. We guide those having weaker self-control with one-on-one help," Dong said.
"We give more detailed painting subjects for quiet personality types and use some different coaching skills to lead the others. For instance, motivating their hand movement by tapping the table or even laying the pigment on their hands," he added.
After years of training and guidance, the children patients have gradually gained some basic self-care abilities and some even can do housework like cooking meals by themselves.
Autism in China has an incidence rate of 0.7 percent, and more than 2 million children under the age of 12 are autistic. The figure is rising by about 200,000 each year, according to a report released in 2019. This year's World Autism Awareness Day falls on Saturday, aiming to raise public awareness to show respect, love and care for the "lonely" minors.
"I hope that after undergoing a long period of interactive training, they can depend on themselves to earn some income, their own achievements and true respect, if there are some platforms and opportunities," Dong said.