Naoki Higashida suffers from severe autism that impedes social and verbal communication and causes repetitive, restrictive behavior. But at age thirteen, by pointing to letters on an alphabet grid, he painstakingly spelled out this book one word at a time.
Few non-autistic people understand what it’s like to live with the condition, partly because its symptoms prevent those who have it from sharing their perspective. That’s why Higashida’s account is critical: it authentically communicates an autistic experience.
In each brief chapter, Higashida poses a simple question, such as why he likes to line things up. Then he answers it. He explains how he feels trying to control his body and participate in conversations. He writes beautifully about his love of nature, and the letters, symbols, and repetitions that feel like safe, comfortable old friends. He also expresses immense guilt for the burden he places on others, but begs us not to give up on autistic kids, and offers suggestions for how to provide support.
Higashida refers to autistic children as “we,” so it’s tempting to interpret him as a voice for all autistic children. Some have cautioned against interpreting this book as offering generalizable answers. But as a glimpse into the mind of a remarkable young man, it is moving and wholly worthwhile.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.
One year ago today: The Flame Alphabet and Girl Reading