The Reason I Jump: The Inner Life of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
Naoki Higashida; Introduction by David Mitchell; Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell
Random House (2013)
176 pages; $22
Review by Amber D. Stoner
The rise of autism awareness and autism spectrum diagnoses means fewer and fewer people today don’t know someone on the spectrum. Whether you do or not, Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump is a valuable read—perhaps, on the subject, the most valuable read. In his introduction, David Mitchell, who translated the book with KA Yoshida, describes four categories of the many now-available autism books: how-to manuals, academic texts, parent memoirs, and “autism autobiography” written by adults on the spectrum. As a reader of each category, I have often been disappointed and frustrated by the cold technical aspects and the prescriptiveness common to all four. None were particularly helpful when my three-year-old son was flailing about because his shirt was the wrong color. Now, Higashida’s bookreveals another category indicated by its subtitle: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism. Here is a book written by a self-aware child with autism, describing why he does what he does as he experiences it. Higashida’s unique and needed voice is a gift to anyone who wants to understand autism and especially to parents, caregivers, teachers, and to other children with autism who will see themselves reflected in his words.
This slender book, written in question-and-answer format, reads fast but should be taken slowly. He’s saying so much. Since spoken communication is almost impossible for Higashida, he uses an alphabet grid to point out letters to spell words and compose sentences. Despite the effort involved, Higashida writes, “What kept me hammering away at it was the thought that to live my life as a human being, nothing is more important than being able to express myself.” He goes on to express his sensory experiences, feelings, movements, the effects of touch, words, and memory on his very being and body. He describes joy and beauty and pain:
“Unlike the words we’re ordered to say, repeating questions we already know the answers to can be a pleasure—it’s playing with sound and rhythm.”
“So on competitive occasions like school sports days, the pleasure I get just by being there takes over, and I’ll end up running the race with all the urgency of someone skipping his way across a meadow.”
“Just by looking at nature, I feel as if I’m being swallowed up into it, and in that moment 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. This sensation is so amazing that I forget that I’m a human being, and one with special needs to boot.”
Higashida is more self-aware than a typical thirteen-year-old because he must be to get through his day. He’s aware of what he does, why he does it, and what he needs from others. He writes, “just let us have a good cry, and then we can get back onto 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.” Repeatedly, Higashida implores us not to give up on him and others with autism: “To you who are helping us, I’d say this: please handle and approach our behavioral issues with a strong faith that they are definitely going to pass, at some point in the future. When we are stopped from doing what we want, we may well make a terrible song and dance about it, but in time we’ll get used to the idea. And until we reach that point, we’d like you to stick with it, and stick with us.”
This use of “we” and “us” recurs throughout the book. His inclusivity is unifying and powerful, but the reader must remember that he is one child with autism. Others with autism may or may not feel or think the same way. There is no one size fits all. This is not a how-to book. We must think and decide how to understand and move forward in our individual situations with any children we know on the spectrum. Not everything he says will apply or apply exactly. Read this not for instruction but to learn what it is to be human. Feel the joy, pain, and struggles of another. Seek to open your mind, shake the dust off, and see a new perspective. Give that empathy muscle a good workout.
Because our empathy is so important. Higashida explains in his afterword: “I hope that by reading my explanations about autism and its mysteries, you can come to understand that all the obstacles that present themselves don’t come from our selfishness or from ego. If all of you can grasp this truth about us, we are handed a ray of hope.” Good books offer understanding and hope. The Reason I Jump is one of them.
Amber D. Stoner is a writer and editor living in Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, MinnPost.com, and the Eden Prairie News.