Two years ago, Wang Muchen could not hear the loud cracks and bangs made by fireworks. Now at 3 years old, he is learning to recognize the sound of water flowing from the tap.
"When I heard from the doctor that my son was born with severe hearing loss, I was desperate and thought the world had closed a door for him," said his mother Chen Siwang.
The most ideal treatment for Wang was to undergo a surgery for a cochlear implant that converts sounds into electrical pulses that are sent to the auditory nerve. The procedure would cost about 200,000 yuan ($29,500).
"His father is the sole breadwinner of the family, with a monthly income of 3,000 yuan. We were planning to sell the house in the countryside to collect funds for the implant," she said.
"Luckily, we were recommended to apply for the free relief program for children with disabilities in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region."
She was referring to a trial project that was initiated in Ningxia in 2018. The initiative involves a package of free rehabilitation and care for young children with disabilities and their families.
Through the Ningxia Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia, Wang was successfully enrolled in the program and received the implant in June 2020 for free.
Two months after being fitted with a cochlear implant, Wang said "Mama" for the first time. He is now able to speak simple sentences and sing melodies.
For Chen, the most surprising change following the implant was that her son has become more outgoing.
"For hearing-impaired kids, they tend to be obstinate and uncooperative," she said. "But now, he is more willing to play with peers and communicate with me.
"So far, we've paid very little in expenses," Chen said, adding that her son is also receiving free rehabilitation training at the center and will likely go to a regular kindergarten soon.
According to experts, the first six years for children with certain conditions are critical and providing them with adequate rehabilitation training during that period is of great significance for their lifelong development.
Ma Junsheng, director of the disabled persons' federation in Ningxia, said that as of mid-March, more than 5,300 children with disabilities have benefited from the free program.
According to the local government, Ningxia has helped build 48 institutions dedicated to offering rehabilitation services for children with disabilities.
From 2019 to May 2022, the autonomous region has provided regular training services for nearly 7,600 disabled children and at-home services for 158 children who are unable to come in person.
Four-year-old Zhao Chenxi has spent over three years at the Ningxia Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled after being diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain that rendered her unable to talk and made her limbs feeble.
Ma Jin, a teacher at the center, said that a training plan tailored to Zhao's condition was formulated.
"At the beginning, she appeared reluctant to do activities, and often yelled and cried in a show of resistance," she said. "But gradually, she got used to our method and her parents would also help her strengthen her leg muscles at home."
Zhao is now able to walk on flat surfaces with the help of a walking aid, as well as doodle and differentiate numbers from 1 to 100.
Ma said that every September, some kids will "graduate" from the center and go to a regular kindergarten, a primary school or a special education school.
"It's our best hope that every child can recover, graduate and have a normal life," she said.