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December 2005

The Autistic Boy Who Writes Fairy Tales

Naoki at work on his computer. (Higashida Yasuhiro)

There is a young author who, despite dealing with the challenge of autism, writes enchanting fairy tales and poems, saying "I want to write stories that give people courage." All of his works feature a rich natural sensitivity and have been highly praised.

Thirteen-year-old Higashida Naoki is a first-year middle school student at Kimitsu School for the Physically Handicapped in Chiba Prefecture. When he was two, Naoki began displaying signs of slow speech development and difficulty in communicating with others. His worried mother began reading him books, teaching him proverbs and haiku poems, and showing him English videos. It turned out that Naoki had autism, a condition that means he has great difficulty communicating verbally or interacting with other people. When Naoki was almost five, his mother noticed that he had a talent for writing, and she encouraged him to develop his ability.

Naoki completed one story after another. Realizing that having a goal would spur him on, he began to enter - and win - writing contests. His mother supported him by devising a word chart that made it easier for him to communicate.

In September 2005, he published a book titled Kono Hoshi ni Sundeiru Boku no Nakama-tachi e: 12 Sai no Boku ga Shitteiru Jihei no Sekai (To My Friends Here on This Planet: The World of Autism that I Know). In the book, he wrote, "We are always troubled and alone. Don't laugh at me or treat my like an outcast." This was a cry from the heart that could only have been written by someone who knows what it is like to live with autism.

Speaking of his frustration through a computer, Naoki said: "I don't know how to say what I want to say, and I can't voice the words in my head. It's always tough and painful."

Naoki writes words using a word chart. (Higashida Yasuhiro)

Sekai de Ichiban Utsukushii Oto (The Most Beautiful Sound in the World), a children's story that took Naoki just 10 days to write on his computer, was the grand prize winner in the middle school student and younger category of the Grimm Fairy Tale Awards. The theme of this contest was light, and Naoki immediately thought about the fact that light from the sun is the source of all life. The authors who judged the contest praised Naoki's story, which is about an exchange between a young boy and a wise old man on the subject of "the sound of light." Naoki has now won the grand prize at this contest two years in a row.

"I always have lots of words within me, and all I do is just draw them out. Writing is really fun," said Naoki. He has a message for the children of the world: "The world that people like me live in is the same as yours. Live together on this earth with us. Become our friends." Naoki wants to be a writer when he grows up.

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