It is a series of questions and answers that author, Naoki Higashida, who was 13 years old at the time of writing the book, addresses about what it’s like to have autism. Naoki was (is?) mostly nonverbal, so his mother developed an alphabet chart, and he composes his thoughts by pointing to letters that spell words. The entire book was written this way. Question One in the book is “How are you writing these sentences?”, where he describes his process.
The thoughts that struck me were that using this rather low-tech process allowed him to “anchor” his words, words that might escape him if he tried to speak them. Also, he reflects on the necessity of self-expression being the essence of truly being human. What a compelling thought.
Question Three is “Why do you ask the same questions over and over?” One of The Boy’s oldest friends does this almost incessantly, and The Boy himself likes to do this from time to time, so I was curious about this. Naoki describes his thoughts as not being linear like those of a neuro-typical person, but more like balls in a ball pit, so that asking the same question over and over helps him arrive back to the memory of the answer the last time he heard it. The next part of his answer resonated with me — Naoki said that it also allows him to “play with words”. This is one of The Boy’s favorite things – he loves puns and jokes that have to do with words even homophones and homonyms. Naoki said that asking repeated questions that he does know the answer to can be like “playing catch”, having fun “playing with sound and rhythm.”
Question Four was similar: “Why do you echo questions back at the asker?” and Naoki responded that doing so was a way of “sifting through memories to pick up clues about what the questioner is asking”, so that he can select the correct “memory picture” that answers the question. In other words, it’s a processing technique, and it echoes the idea of people with autism thinking in pictures.
Responding to Question Seven, “Why do you speak in that peculiar way?”, Naoki describes it as a “gap” between what he’s thinking and saying because he can only access certain words at that time. He goes on to say that he may sound strange when he’s reading aloud because he cannot imagine the story while reading it. This, THIS is why I still read to my son at age 11, and why comprehension is difficult but fluency is a breeze!!
The next few questions deal with conversation, and why it so difficult for people with autism to converse. In Naoki’s case, he describes it as a “flood of words,” and words “escaping” when it is his turn to speak. He also asks us not to “assume that every word we say is what we intended,” because sometimes the words that can be accessed are not the correct ones, but they come out anyway. He explains a great lack of control, and anxiety about how he is perceived. He ends this section by asking, “Can you imagine how your life would be if you couldn’t talk?” and what I think he means is that not having the control of your own brain and body to make yourself understood is extremely isolating and frustrating.
What are your thoughts on this section of the book? Were there any revelations for you? Please share below. I can’t wait to hear what you think!