Published by Random House on August 27, 2013
Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.
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Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within. Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again. In his introduction, bestselling novelist David Mitchell writes that Naoki’s words allowed him to feel, for the first time, as if his own autistic child was explaining what was happening in his mind. “It is no exaggeration to say that The Reason I Jump allowed me to round a corner in our relationship.” This translation was a labor of love by David and his wife, KA Yoshida, so they’d be able to share that feeling with friends, the wider autism community, and beyond. Naoki’s book, in its beauty, truthfulness, and simplicity, is a gift to be shared.
Naoki Higashida is thirteen years old and severely autistic, “a writer still with one foot in childhood,” as described in the introduction by translator David Mitchell. He is nonverbal, communicating via an alphabet grid. Written in Q&A format and concluding with one of Higashida’s short stories, The Reason I Jump is a quick read which offers a peek into the mind of an autistic child.
I think it’s important to remember this is one person’s perspective. The word “we” is used so often in his responses, it’d be easy to make sweeping assumptions that Higashida’s perceptions mirror what others with autism experience; but we all know that autism disorders vary greatly from person to person. However, The Reason I Jump offers unique insight and hopes to clear up common misunderstandings. For example, “calming down” might look different than we’d expect: repetitive movement could help to calm while trying to sit still makes things worse. Outward “childish” behavior is often motivated by intricate thoughts and emotions within. Higashida explains why making eye contact is difficult. He expresses frustration at being talked down to, as well as the assumption that his feelings aren’t as subtle and as the feelings of others.
Yet…here comes the dose of skepticism: I couldn’t help but wonder about the incredibly profound manner in which Higashida expresses himself, especially his perceptions of the world around him and when comparing his own experiences with those of “normal” people. He is impressively astute and at times, downright philosophical. I thought, how trustworthy was the translation process? I did some Googling, and I found this New York Times article (among others) which brought up a number of valid concerns.
Even so, that didn’t negate the positive aspects of The Reason I Jump. At the very least, Higashida challenged me to consider people and look at life from angles that had never before crossed my mind. Well worth the read, even with the grain of salt.