“Us kids with autism, we never use enough words, and it’s these missing words that can cause all the trouble.”
This wisdom comes from a then-13-year-old autistic boy (he is now 21), Naoki Higashida. Unable to speak, he learned to use an alphabet board to communicate. The original Japanese has been translated into English, a joint project of critically acclaimed author David Mitchell and KA Yoshida, who have an autistic child of their own.
Higashida explains, from his personal perspective, a lot of the more puzzling aspects of autism that really cannot be fathomed by outsiders. Why does he jump? Why does he wave goodbye with his palm backward? He says that autistic people flap their fingers in front of their eyes because “it allows the light to enter our eyes in a pleasant, filtered fashion.” He describes how he processes the phenomenon of rain: hearing it first, then seeing it, then, while trying to understand what it is, becoming entranced by the sights and sounds. He believes that autistics enjoy sitting and watching spinning objects because “they rotate with perfect regularity.” He believes that all autistic people “make friends with nature,” offering this poetic explanation: “I get the sensation that my body’s now a speck, a speck from long before I was born, a speck that is melting into nature herself.”
"Many parents of autistic children will want to read THE REASON I JUMP and glean insights and inspiration from it."
Higashida can now use a computer to “speak.” Though this is an increasingly common method of drawing autistics out of their solitary world, this young man seems to have many unusual insights, not only about himself but also about autism in general.
In his introduction, Mitchell states that he and his wife found Higashida’s writings “transformative” after a long, frustrating search for any materials that would help them understand their own child. The fact that it had been composed by a child’s mind, rather than by someone writing from the adult perspective (like noted autistic writer Temple Grandin), gave the book even greater significance. “It is no exaggeration to say that THE REASON I JUMP allowed me to round a corner in our relationship with our son.” Undertaking a translation into English seemed a logical step once he realized how valuable the child’s revelations could be.
Many parents of autistic children will want to read THE REASON I JUMP and glean insights and inspiration from it. Since there is currently no cure for autism, the book can only offer a glimpse into the private prison of the disease, not a way out. But that glimpse will be comforting in itself. Of particular interest is the short story “I’m Right Here,” composed by Higashida, revealing depths of empathy for the mother of a dead child, empathy that one would not expect from a “typical” autistic person. Perhaps one of the more important messages of the book is that there is no “typical” autistic person, yet all autistics share some characteristics in common, rather like “normal” people.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on September 6, 2013