In our new review series, we will be looking at recommended reading for those who live or work with anyone with autism or a learning difficulty.
Our first book, Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight is Naoki Higashida’s second memoir providing an insight into the world of a young adult with non-verbal autism.
“Illumination can mortify”, says David Mitchell in his introduction to Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight. The insight Naoki Higashida’s first memoir, The Reason I Jump, gave into the internal world of a thirteen-year-old with non-verbal autism, shocked many and led to accusations that it could not possibly have been written by him or meaning had been added in translation. He writes with eloquence and emotional understanding generally not associated with someone on the autistic spectrum and argues that autism is a communication and sensory disability not a cognitive one.
Higashida’s second memoir provides another unique insight – although it doesn’t have the same sensational impact as his first book, his writing has matured and offers a reflective view of his life as well as discussion of his struggle to find a place in the world.
His writing is incredibly moving, providing insights into his behaviours, and his self-awareness is uplifting. He does not claim to write on behalf of all people with autism but rather explain his experience of it and give insight to the neurotypical world. This insight makes it thoroughly recommended reading for those who live or work with anyone with autism or a learning disability.
Describing the processing of information that leads him to reach the conclusion that it is raining outside and his explanation of why he is compelled to echo questions back, instead of being able to answer, you begin to comprehend even if only fractionally the daily struggles that Higashida contends with.
Higashida argues that people with learning disabilities should be encouraged to experience the world and not be sheltered away. Through this they have the opportunity to grow and develop as well as allowing the community to demonstrate understanding.
“I can’t help but feel that some imbalance in the world first caused neuro-atypical people to be needed and then brought us into being,” he writes. “Those who are determined to live with us and not give up on us are deeply compassionate people, and this kind of compassion must be a key to humanity’s long-term survival.”
His careful observations remind us to take joy in life’s simple pleasures. The included short story written from the perspective of an old man is incredibly moving and shows his deep understanding of emotions. Knowing that each sentence has been carefully constructed in Higashida’s mind before he writes by pointing at each letter on an alphabet grid and voicing the sound whilst a scribe takes this down, adds to the admiration for his writing. Using a computer to write is also an option for Higashida, however this can cause difficulties as he can become obsessed with a certain letter or writing the same word over and over again.
The book is also part tribute to his mother, other family members and support staff – who have helped to give him the support and encouragement to take chances and forge his own path in the world, creating a happy and fulfilled life in adulthood.
“I know I’ll never be like anyone else … but little by little, I intend to write my own story.”