“Hikikomori” is a Japanese word referring to social withdrawal. In Western countries, the term “NEET” which means “Not in Education, Employment, or Training” is more commonly used. Hikikomori is a more researched topic in Asia, I suspect, due to the emphasis that these cultures place on socialisation and social conformity, it is just ‘not right’ for people to be socially withdrawn. In contrast, biological conditions like autism receive little attention. It is articles like this that reminds me of why I want to pursue a research study on autism in this country. It is one of the things that irks me about Asian society, that is when researchers direct so much attention into this topic whilst ignoring the needs of autistic people.
Quotes from the news article, “Hong Kong’s hidden youth: societal pressure driving city’s young into apathy and reclusiveness”
Tung, who preferred not to give her full name, is among 140,000 young people in Hong Kong in similar situations, according to Dr Paul Wong, a clinical psychologist at the University of Hong Kong and an expert in social withdrawal. He estimates that up to 2 per cent of Hong Kong’s population could be considered withdrawn, significantly higher than in Japan, where the condition is better known and estimates of prevalence range from 0.4 to 1.2 per cent.
“It’s not a mental issue. It’s very hard to find a biological reason for this kind of behaviour. It has more to do with environmental, sociological and parenting issues. The very high expectations of parents and society are pushing young people into these conditions.”
“These young people are not easy to find,” says Jack Chiu Tak-choi,manager of the ELCHK social service team. “These kids just want to hide in their rooms. They often look like Tarzan or wild people, with long hair and a wild look because they have been shut inside for so long.”
“About half of the withdrawn youth have other related mental problems, like depression, anxiety or autism,” Chiu says. “Most expect to get back into society, but don’t feel ready.”
People keep saying that socially withdrawn people are difficult to find but surely autism is something you can start with. If about half of the estimated 2% socially withdrawn are autistic, that is quite a significant minority. I’m not saying social withdrawal is not a problem, it deserves attention as much as anxiety and depression. Neither am I saying that all people with autism are socially withdrawn, but if we can identify an underlying condition (autism) amongst this population, shouldn’t we be targeting that? What are we doing to help those with autism other than putting them through social skills training? Have the researchers asked them? What have these youngsters been told about autism? I can only imagine it’s not something they are proud of. And by the way, autism is not a mental problem. So many unanswered questions, researchers call people who are socially withdrawn hidden youth. The way I see, they are not hidden but ignored.
My interview is tomorrow but I want to post it here and now because I know I can’t say this directly during the interview. 😉