A worthwhile existence lies in playing whatever cards life has dealt you as skillfully as you can.
This book, more than any other in a long time, has made a huge impact on me. I read it a few weeks ago and I still regularly pause to consider the messages I have taken from it.
In Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A young man’s voice from the silence of autism, Naoki Higashida shares his thoughts and experiences as a young man living with autism.
Naoki, born in Kimitsu Japan, was diagnosed with severe autism when he was five. Through the support of his mother he learned to communicate using a handmade alphabet grid. He went on to write The Reason I Jump at age 13 and has since published several books, essays and poems.
Photo: © Miki Higashida
I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that until I read this book I truly had not given much thought to the lives of people with autism and similar conditions. Naoiki’s story opened my eyes to the experiences, and more importantly, thoughts of people with autism.
Back in the days when I had no way to communicate at all … I was extremely lonely. People who have never experienced this will go through life never knowing how soul-crushing the condition of wordlessness is.
I know that if I was wordless, if I could not speak or write, I would be extremely frustrated. I would want to stomp, scream, hit out and make any noise I could. And when someone asked what was wrong, how could I explain to them the agony of not being able to tell them how I feel?
Through his reflections on life Naoki shares some excellent advice on how to interact with people with disabilities.
One of the lessons I’m grateful to have learned as an adult is that life serves up hard times to everyone, not just me. …. Many people with disabilities are, I think, kept isolated and insulated from society. Please give those of us with special needs opportunities to learn what’s happening in the wider world without deciding on our behalves – by assuming ‘They won’t understand anything’, or ‘Well, they don’t look interested’. On the surface, a sheltered life spent on your favourite activities might look like paradise, but I believe that unless you come into contact with some of the hardships other people endure, your own personal development will be impaired.
Naoki’s words certainly have caused me to reflect on my own preconceptions and attitudes. Perhaps, the focus should change from asking How can people with special needs fit into our society? to How can we embrace our differences and create a society where everyone benefits from these differences?
The value of a person shouldn’t be fixed solely by his or her skills and talents – or lack of them. It’s how you strive to live well that allows others to understand your awesomeness as a human being.
Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A young man’s voice from the silence of autism, Naoki Higashida, translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell, New York, Random House, 2017, First edition, ISBN 9780812997392