Au­thor hails Ja­panese writer for win­dow into autism

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Kis­arazu, Ja­pan

David Mitchell re­mem­bers the day he read the mem­oir of a 13-year-old boy with autism — hail­ing it a “rev­e­la­tory god­send” that of­fered a win­dow on the life of his own autis­tic son.

The best-sell­ing au­thor of Cloud At­las says Naoki Hi­gashida was “one of the most help­ful and prac­ti­cal writ­ers on the sub­ject of autism in the world”.

“Pre-Naoki, I’m ashamed to say that I used to re­gard and treat my son as a kind of de­fec­tive robot,” Mitchell says.

“Post-Naoki, I started to be­lieve that it’s notmy son that’s de­fec­tive, but only his abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate what’s hap­pen­ing in his rich, play­ful, ‘trapped’ mind.”

Hi­gashida was just 5 years old when he was di­ag­nosed with se­vere autism. Autism is a spec­trum of neuro-de­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­ders that man­i­fests it­self in dif­fi­cul­ties com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

The ex­act causes are un­known, and re­search sug­gests it may be ge­netic, en­vi­ron­men­tal, or both. There have also been un­proven scares link­ing the con­di­tion to child­hood vac­ci­na­tions.

Like Dustin Hoffman’s autis­tic char­ac­ter in the Os­car-win­ning film Rain­Man, Hi­gashida, now 22 years old, gets stuck re­peat­ing cer­tain move­ments, twitches er­rat­i­cally and some­times re­cites num­bers.

He has trou­ble ex­press­ing him­self and gets flus­tered when there are too many peo­ple around him, but can com­mu­ni­cate well — though some­times clum­sily — by spell­ing out his thoughts on a key­board-like al­pha­bet grid.

“I can’t ex­plain my feel­ings well be­cause I have autism, but I can com­mu­ni­cate by do­ing this,” Hi­gashida says dur­ing an in­ter­view at his of­fice in Kis­arazu, southeast of Tokyo.

“Words are not just a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, butmy friends.”

That friend­ship with words blos­somed into an es­say, en­ti­tled The Rea­son I Jump, which was pub­lished as a book in 2007 fea­tur­ing 58 of­ten-asked ques­tions about his autism and his frank — some­times star­tling — an­swers to them.

“I very quickly for­get what it is I’ve just heard,” he writes in re­sponse to a query about why autis­tic peo­ple re­peat ques­tions.

“A nor­mal per­son’s mem­ory is ar­ranged con­tin­u­ously, like a line. My mem­ory, how­ever, is more like a pool of dots. I’m al­ways ‘pick­ing up’ th­ese dots — by ask­ing my ques­tions.”

Ad­dress­ing the book’s ti­tle, he writes: “When I’m jump­ing, it’s as ifmy feel­ings are go­ing up­ward to the sky. By jump­ing up and down, it’s as if I’mshak­ing loose the ropes that are ty­ing upmy body.”

The book was a hit in Ja­pan, but its dis­cov­ery and sub­se­quent trans­la­tion byMitchell— who pre­vi­ously lived in Ja­pan and has a Ja­panese wife — brought it main­stream au­di­ences all around the world.

“We read a chap­ter and thought, ‘MyGod, that’s like our son talk­ing

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