Monday, December 14, 2015

David Mitchell

David Mitchell's novels include The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, and Slade House. From Mitchell's interview with Fresh Air producer Sam Briger:

BRIGER: In 2013, you published a book that you and your wife, Keiko Yoshida, translated from Japanese. It's called "The Reason I Jump." It's author, Naoki Higashida, was a 13-year-old boy at the time it was written. He's autistic and nonverbal. So the original book was written with Higashida pointing to Japanese characters on a grid, and then someone would transcribe those thoughts. And the majority of the book is in a question-and-answer form with him describing what it's like to live with autism. He answers questions like why can't you have a proper conversation? Why don't you make eye contact when you're talking? Your son has autism, and you've said that this book was incredibly helpful for you in understanding what your son's experience is like. What was so helpful about it?

MITCHELL: Because there was a lot of overlap between Naoki's presentations of autism and our son's, so that's the first thing. We think of autism as one set of fairly-defined symptoms. It's not; it's vast different, and there are as many different kinds of autism as there are people with autism, really. And just because of one book might be really helpful about one type, one manifestation, that doesn't mean it will be helpful for any others. But as it happens, there was quite a useful overlap between Naoki's autism and our son's, so that's reason one. Reason two - many books are written by experts or they're written by carers or they're written by people with autism, but very high functioning autism, more towards the Asperger's end of the pool than towards the kind of autism that our son has, which is fairly hardcore, fairly nonverbal. So again, there was that overlap there. And it was from the inside. It was from the planet of autism. It very often felt as if Naoki was giving our son a voice. And if our son could say what was happening in his head, then he would say something like this. This made me understand that so much more is going on in our son's head than is apparent and that many of the problems and the challenges that our son faces - and he gets enough from the autism itself, but we were compounding them. We were piling them on through our own ignorance about autism. And this is true for every autistic person on Earth. We cause a hell of a lot of the problems - us neurotypicals - because we don't get it. We jump to false assumptions. We even kind of congratulate ourselves on our knowledge that, for example, people with autism, kids with autism, they like to - they prefer to be on their own in the corner, lining up their toys in a line or something and they're happiest there, and they're not. They want the human interaction. It's just we're so lousy at that in studying how to do it that we get it wrong, thereby driving them into the corner. You see what I mean? We sort of confuse our wrong actions with their preferred behaviors. And they can't point it out because they have autism. What a fate, really, what a fate. But when you know that that mischievousness is there, when you know that intellect and intelligence and that desire for interactivity is there, then you change the way you behave. We did with our son, and it yielded good results. It's not a cure. The book...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue