Bios

Fellow travelers

Naoki Higashida

Hello. My name is Naoki Higashida. I am a junior of a correspondence high school. At home, I study and do creative work. I jog with my father in mornings, and sometimes go bowling, shopping, or go to the library with my support person.

I have severe autism. When I had no means of communication, I was so alone like a lost and lonely crow in town. Nobody understood me, no matter what I did such as going wild, crying and screaming. Upon hearing the word “severe autism,” you may imagine a person who cannot speak, cannot understand others’ feelings, and lacks imaginative abilities.

I, too, did not think such a day would come when I could be able to communicate and tell you my message like this.

I was encouraged when I learned that there were people in other countries who used a similar communication approach. There must be many more people with autism who, like how I used to be, have the inner worlds but have no means to express them.

As a person who cannot speak, I had thought that I should write so people can read my words and to know more about me. I thought that was a way for me to connect with the world. So I became a writer.

Being a severely autistic person, I may be thought to be unable of understanding anything, but I’m always listening to people around me. I watch TV and enjoy music. I also read some books, although not a whole lot. Having wanted to be normal, I observed people around me. Even though I could not behave like they did, I observed the world of normal people, which seemed full of mysteries to me, as if I had been watching a space movie. Once I became able to write sentences, not only I wrote about my thoughts as poems but also I wrote stories in which I appeared as the main character living in the world of so-called normal people. By writing a story where I can imagine myself as a main character, I freely traveled through their world.

In a sense, as a person with autism, I may be unable to understand the behaviors and thoughts of normal people. As I write stories, I always wonder whether normal people can understand what I mean by my writings. So when I write, I pay close attention to whether there are gaps between my own perspective and others’ perspectives. Thus I get really happy when many people read my books and I receive comments from the readers, because I feel like I got closer to their world.

I have hated not- normal myself for always causing people troubles and having nothing to contribute. I tried to be like everyone so I could live in this society. But I noticed that, while there were things I could do if I made efforts, there were things that I could never do no matter how hard I tried. In addition, there are differences between what I like or what is important to me and what others like or value. I was realizing the differences in values and ways of thinking between others and me in a way not to deny myself entirely.

I think that “the world of autism narrated by people with autism” is something to be revealed more and more in future. For instance, an example of how I experience the world may be different from how most people experience the world is my experience with rain. My first reaction to rain is to be surprised at its sounds. Though everyone seems to know it rain instantly from hearing its sounds, I first become anxious, unable to tell what sound it is and where it comes from until someone tells me it’s rain. That is why I stare at rain so I can connect the sounds to the rain. But then I become so absorbed in watching raindrops that I forget where I am now. The feeling of continuous raindrops coming down from the sky and falling through my body on the ground causes me to forget myself. Like this, in the world of autism, there are sensory perceptions and ways of thinking that only people with autism can explain.

Now I wonder whether everything about autism is bad. This is me – a person with autism. I dearly love people who love me. And I think there are great things too in the world of autism that only we know. Just as lives of each person has a meaning, I believe that my being born autistic should have a meaning.

Being understood with empathy by others greatly relieves our distressed hearts. So this is of particular value for me to be able to tell you about my thoughts here today. I think that mutual understanding is the first step toward tomorrow’s hope. I want to believe that we – you and us, the people with autism – share the same future and share this world together.

- Naoki Higashida

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