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.