The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
Naoki Higashida, author
© Copyright 2007, Naoki Higashida
Translation © 2013, David Mitchell
Ransom House, ISBN: 978-0-8129-9486-5
Hardcover, 135 pages, non-fiction
If you’ve ever looked at an autistic child and wondered what’s going on behind those soulful eyes, this presentation will get you as close to understanding the quite different world of the affected mind as is likely possible for a “normal” person.
Young Higashida juxtaposes the terms autistic and normal and places autistic people in a space parallel to those not afflicted. He acknowledges that his perception of normal is as much guesswork as a normal person’s attempt to fathom autism. Still, he expresses a profound comprehension of his limitations, the differences between his control of his body and his mind as compared to that of normal people, and how his actions impact those around him.
After an introduction by David Mitchell who facilitated the translation of The Reason I Jump from its native Japanese, and a preface by Naoki, the book is organized as fifty-eight direct questions and anwers plus a short story written by Naoki.
How are you writing these sentences? is the first question, a topic that is also addressed by Mitchell in the introduction, is answered by Naoki in “Q1.” Q2: Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly? Q3: Why do you ask the same question over and over? Q11: Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking? Q37: Why do you flap your fingers and hands in front of your face? The answers are astonishing and embarrassing: we normals have gotten it so wrong.
Throughout Naoki’s presentation, his response to so many questions about his actions, tantrums, sorrows, and fits of rage is that it just happens. He may not be reacting to a stimulus of those around him. The parent may not have done anything to offend him. To Q19, What are your flashback memories like, he describes inner torment and ends his answer with, “…let us have a good cry then we can get back on our feet. Maybe the racket we make will get on your nerves a bit, but please try to understand what we’re going through, and stay with us.”
Naoki describes the altered universe of his autistic mind and body, how he feels and sees things differently than normal people; time itself is perceived very much differently. That he understands those differences, and that he can observe a normal person being asked to do something and react immediately and satisfactorily, and that he can understand that he is unable to respond to requests in the same linear fashion is remarkable. That he communicates it in this work is nothing short of miraculous.
In the Foreword to his short story, Here I Am, presented after his Q&A, Naoki writes, “I wrote this story in the hope that it will help you to understand how painful it is when you can’t express yourself to the people you love…”
This kind of powerful insight into the mind is what makes this book a must-read for those dealing with an autistic child. It will change the way you interact with your child. It will ease the burden, knowing that your child is dealing with his or her own situation and is not lost down a dark hole of despair.
If there is any shortcoming it’s the absence of a table of contents or index listing the questions, but that’s a very small concession to the power of this work.
Reviewed by Robin D. Ader
April 27, 2014