Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Autism Success Stories – Hikari Ōe

Autism Success Stories – Hikari Ōe


After American Temple Grandin and British artists Stephen Wilshire, in this week’s Autism Success Story we carry on casting the net wide and profile Japanese Hikari Ōe. This is the third in a series of guest articles from Autism Care UK, a leading provider of autism support services and autism care homes.

Who is Hikari Ōe?

Born in Japan, Hikari Ōe is a famous classical composer and son of the Nobel Prize winning author Kenzaburō Ōe. Hirkari was born in 1963 with a life-threatening growth on his brain. The growth was so large that it made him appear two-headed and doctors gave his parents a cruel choice either let their son die or subject him to an operation that, if he survived, would leave him severely brain-damaged and in all likelihood incapable of living a normal life. The doctors urged his parents to let him die, but they refused and opted for the surgical option. From this traumatic start to his life Hikari has gone on sell over millions of records’ worldwide.


In the Spotlight

His first CD, which he released in 1992 at the age of 29, comprised of 25 short piano solos and piano and flute compositions. His second collection included the violin as well as piano and flute was also a commercial success as have all his subsequence releases. The Ōe family have also been subject of a television documentary broadcast on NHK, the Japanese government broadcasting network. It was during this show that Kenzaburo announced his intention to stop writing fiction as his son had now found his voice. It was a few months after this broadcast in October that he won his Nobel Prize.


Hikari’s first releases in the United States sold out during the first week, despite little publicity and marketing. With the music industry such as it is, this is virtually unheard off as record labels spends millions on promoting albums and singles through print, television and digital advertising. The reason behind why these little publicised CD’s sold so well was purely because the beauty of the music, which unusually for a classical composer are short tracks, predominately under 3 minutes long each.


Hikari’s experience of Autism.

Hikari’s parents had to make an incredibly difficult decision early on in his life, whether to operate or let their son die. The decision to raise a child like Hikari - uncoordinated, incontinent, autistic, with crossed eyes and poor vision, subject to seizures and scarcely able to communicate - took even more courage than it would today.


Despite the doctor’s urging them not too, they opted for the surgical option. Hikari did not speak until he was six years old, when he identified a birdcall as a water rail. He had previously been given a record featuring 70 birdcalls and had memorised them. By the age of 11 he was showing a love and talent for classical music, and was using piano lessons as a part of his therapy. At the tender age of 13 he began composing his own pieces.  Even in his adult life Hikari’s language abilities remain what many people would call rudimentary. Despite struggling with the names for everyday objects he is able to remember music easily. For example when he hears am extract of Mozart   he is able to identify it by its Kochel number.  He started piano lessons as part of his therapy due to his sensitivity to sound. With his physical coordination being erratic he initially struggled. But his extraordinary musical ability soon became obvious, and as they say, the rest is history.  

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