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This book gives one an insight into the life of one very courageous young man and shows the power of love and acceptance.
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This is a sensational document which could lead to a significant shift in how non-verbal autistic people (in Naoki Higashida’s words neuro-atypicals) are treated. Hagashida’s writing (carried out laboriously by means of an alphabet board) is introduced by the novelist David (Cloud Atlas) Mitchell who translated Fall Down 7 Times, Get up 8 with his Japanese wife Keiko Yoshida. The Mitchells’ intense involvement with Higashida’s writing springs from their experience of raising an autistic non-verbal son who displays the same epic meltdowns and ferocious head-banging as Higashida has done. With Thomas Judd, David Mitchell reads the work with skill and empathy so that although this is a translation, you can belive this is Hagashida’s voice.
What Higashida shows through his writing is that the Japanese term for autism which translates as ‘self-locked-up disease’ is wrong. Now nineteen, he talks to us directly, asking for our understanding and advising us how we can reach and best help people like him. Perhaps his strongest message is: don’t think that because we can’t communicate in words that we are incapable of comprehension – talk to us. Mitchell took this advice and spoke to his son ‘normally’ with great improvements in his autistic behaviours. Higashida leads us inside his head so that we can understand how complex the world is for him; how meltdowns and sleeve-biting are signs of his anger and frustrations with himself; how he is not closed in and unimaginative and incapable of empathy as is generally thought, and people need to see that despite the apparently useless strangled sounds he makes, he is open, grievously isolated and lonely, kind, loving and deeply appreciative of his family. The moment he manages after years to say ‘buy’ and ‘carnation’ to his carer by painstakingly joining links in his brain and so give his mother a Mother’s Day gift is very moving. When you see such a child not able to laugh with others, it isn’t because he has no sense of humour (he has), but because the contortions of the face when people laugh is frightening, just as when he wrinkles his face before the mirror he cannot recognise himself.
Higashida’s plea is that his book will change people’s attitudes and if just one neuro-atypical child is helped in the agony of his non-verbal existence because someone has read this book, his efforts will have been worth-while.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful