The format of the book revolves around the author Naoki Higashida’s answers to the common questions people tend to have about people with autism. Many, if not most, are ones I have been asked by those who have observed or encountered my son. Some are questions I have wondered about. Here are a few examples:
– Q3: Why do you ask the same questions over and over?
– Q4: Why do you echo questions back at the asker?
– Q11: Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?
– Q31: Why are you so picky about what you eat?
– Q42: Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars?
Here are three of Higashida’s answers:
– Q29: Why do you do things the rest of us don’t? Do your senses work differently in some way?
…If a person without autism is going through a hard time, he or she can talk it over with someone, or make a ruckus about it. But in our case, that’s not an option—we can never make ourselves understood. Even when we’re in the middle of a panic attack, people either don’t get what’s happening to us, or else they just tell us to stop crying. My guess is that the despair we’re feeling has nowhere to go and fills up our entire bodies, making our senses more and more confused.
– Q41: What kind of TV programs do you enjoy?
People with autism get quite a kick out of repetition. If I was asked how come, my reply would be this: “When you’re in a strange new place, aren’t you relieved too if you run into a friendly, familiar face?”… What we just don’t do are disputes, bargaining or criticizing others. We’re totally helpless in these scenarios.
– Q46: Do you enjoy your free time?
Because for people with autism, free time is in fact un-free time. “You can do whatever you feel like doing now,” someone might tell us. But actually, it’s pretty hard for us to find something we do feel like doing, not just like that. If we happen to see some toys or books we’re always playing with or reading, then sure, we’ll pick them up. Thing is, however, that’s not so much what we want to do as something we can do. Playing with familiar items is comforting because we already know what to do with them, so then, of course, people watching us assume, Aha, so that’s what he likes to do in his free time … What I really want to do, however, is to get stuck in some difficult book or to debate some issue or other.
We are misunderstood, and we’d give anything if only we could be understood properly. People with autism would be suffering breakdowns over this—all the time—if we weren’t holding ourselves in so tightly. Please, understand what we really are, and what we’re going through.
Thanks to Naoki for providing some of the very understanding he seeks.
Onward, Malcolm Gauld