Let’s play a game. True or False: Autism is a mental disorder.
If you answered true, guess what? You’re wrong. Don’t be upset though -- the majority of society holds this understanding of autism to be true. Autism is, in fact, a neurological disorder wrought with extensive misconceptions that have led to a prevailingly incorrect social understanding of the condition. A small sample of the myths people believe to be true about autism includes: individuals with autism are unable to form meaningful social relationships; autistic people lack empathy for others; therapies for individuals with autism work effectively across the board… the list goes on and on. These misconceptions effectively create a lack of empathetic understanding on society’s side. How is that for irony?--one of the largest myths about autistic individuals is actually true for those without autism -- they believe these myths to be true and through this lens, mistreat autistic individuals, stunting their ability to progress in society.
One individual shattering these misconception is Naoki Higashida. an autistic person himself -- and a child at that! Higashida-san wrote a short, introspective ‘book’, although I would use the word book loosely. I consider it more a stream of conscious thoughts on how he experiences the world around him. Higashida is nonverbal, so he utilized a Japanese alphabet letter board to type out the book. Titled “The Reason I Jump”, was originally published in Japan in 2005 and became a national bestseller. It recently reached a global audience when David Mitchell, the renowned author of Cloud Atlas, translated the book in to English. This translation has opened up an international dialogue on how autism is misunderstood and the necessary understandings that must be realized in order to move past this socially conditioned misconceptions of the disorder.
Read more to see how Naoki Higashida’s work has helped eradicate common misunderstandings about autism, including some excerpts from his writings.
Autism is a spectral disease and those who suffer from the disorder exhibit different consequences depending on how it developed neurologically. Naoki Higashida’s authorship of a book is a testament to this as most people with this disorder would not have the capacity to accomplish such a task, since one of the most prevelant characteristics of autism perhaps the difficulty that autistic individuals have with communication. In a blog, written by Higashida this last year, he reflects on this:
“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” [source]
This passage reveals a distinctive emotional capability in autistic people that has often been thought to be non-existent. Mitchell writes on this: “those diagnosed with autism… have an excess of the very qualities they are thought to lack. They are not insensitive but hypersensitive, and the classic autistic traits… are ways of keeping a relentless perceptual onslaught at bay.”
Proof of this excess of perceptiveness amongst the autistic individual’s world is aptly displayed in this excerpt from one of Higashida’s blog posts, in which he writes about how he experiences rain:
“My first reaction to rain is to be surprised at its sounds. Though everyone seems to know it rains 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 I stare at rain -- so I can connect the sounds to the rain. But then I become 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.”
This passage is revelatory in that it describes the constant onslaught of stimuli that are apart of the autistic individual’s reality. Imagine what it must be like for an autistic individual to walk outside during rush hour -- the lights of the cars, the honking of horns, the constant stop-and-go motion. This overwhelming perceptiveness must be considered carefully by the public in order to properly understand the common behaviours of autistic individuals. Without this understanding, the public will continue to have skewed beliefs about autism and its associated behaviours. Higashida’s writing reveals the interior thought processes of autistic people and thus does what literature does best: create a sense of an empathy for the ‘other’.
Autism is one category of people in ISFnet’s Target 25; groups of people with differing circumstances that affect their ability to find work. One of ISFnet’s key philosophies is having an altruistic heart. This means having an empathetic understanding of others, completely independent of self. We work to employ these different groups of people as a result of society’s lack of empathy towards whatever their situation may be. I think that this quote from Higashida best sums up why our company has this mission: “Being understood with empathy by others greatly relieves our distressed hearts… I think that mutual understanding is the first step toward tomorrow’s hope.”
To read more of Naoki Higashida’s writings, check out his blog here: Naoki Higashida Official Blog
ISFnet has previously held lectures by Higashida-san. Don’t miss out on the blog post about this lecture!