Songs for the Slow Lane

Hugh O'Donnell

Born in 1992 and diagnosed with autism when he was five, 13- year-old Naoki Higashida tells this story:

Having lost the earlier contest, Hare wants a re-match. Tortoise, as reigning champion, at last concedes. The animals gather. At the gun, Hare streaks away. Tortoise pumped up with adrenalin, trips over something and ends up on his back. The animals carry him home. Later, when Hare crosses the line, punching the air, there is nobody there to cheer.

In his autobiography , ‘The Reason I Jump’, Naoki allows us access the hyper-sensitive world of someone considered slow and un-communicative. With remarkable insight, he gives us a glimpse into autism with its fears and uncertainties. Time, for example, he says, is ‘as difficult for us to grasp as picturing a country we’ve never been to. …Exactly what the next moment has in store for us never stops being a big, big worry’. No wonder he writes of his longing to go back to a ‘distant, distant watery past’ before our ancestors crawled onto dry land and discovered time.

Even when ignored or pushed away, he says, people like him find solace and friendship in nature from whom ‘we receive a sort of permission to be alive in this world and our entire bodies get re-charged… Nature will always give us a great big hug here in our hearts’. Just by looking at nature he can feel ‘swallowed up into it’, a sensation so amazing ‘I forget that I’m a human being and one with special needs as well’.

And the black crow looked no less perfect against the deep blue than the white dove.