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Book review: ‘The Reason I Jump,’ by Naoki Higashida

Karina Wetherbee
Special to the Daily
“The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism,” by Naoki Higashida.
Special to the Daily |

Nearly everyone knows someone whose family has been impacted in some way by autism. That said, there is no one demonstrative example of an individual with the disorder, as people can exhibit a wide array of symptoms and amplitude, which is why autism is diagnosed as a spectrum disorder, with varying levels of severity.

For those on the most extreme end of that spectrum, autism can be a particularly isolating and disheartening torment, all the more difficult because communication skills are often lacking, making it challenging to truly share with loved ones just what is being experienced.

“The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism,” Naoki Higashida’s intriguing glimpse into the shadows of his own lifelong struggle with autism, provides a rare opportunity to delve into that world — not from the eyes and voice of his caregiver or heath care provider, but from his own teenaged self, as he experiences the unique challenges of autism each day.

Even before the young author’s Q-and-A-style section of the book begins, there is much to recommend. “Cloud Atlas” author David Mitchell provides the poignant and lengthy introduction, in which he invites the reader to imagine what a day might seem like — in a sensory way — to someone with autism. “A dam-burst of ideas, memories, impulses and thoughts is cascading over you, unstoppably.”

Mitchell speaks from a very personal perspective, as a father of an autistic child, and before reading Higashida’s perspective, Mitchell felt that his autistic child was lost and inaccessible to them. “Reading it felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head.”

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Now translated into English, partly through Mitchell’s persistence and assistance, Higashida’s words are more widely available as a vital tool for helping family members better understand the internal landscape of someone coping with autistic spectrum disorder.

Autism explained

Suffering from its severest form, Higashida is mostly unable to speak, so he has learned to communicate by pointing at letters on an alphabet grid and also by using a computer keyboard. The young author’s voice is fresh and spontaneous, and for page after page, he is eager to share what his life is like. Throughout his thoughtful and lengthy answers to basic questions and concerns about autism, Higashida’s goal is to de-mystify what he — and others such as him — battle with every day.

There are moments of childish delight in the small book, with interspersed artwork and some fable-like short stories, but much of the boy’s answers show his honest struggle to communicate, which he feels is the essence of the human experience and which is so often inaccessible to autistics. Speech can very often be stilted and choppy, he says — if it happens at all — because there is the lack of a linear flow between the words being formed in the mind and the words that leave the mouth; he calls this “verbal junk.”

Higashida clearly revels in his chance to express his feelings and to assert the yearning of every autistic to be understood and accepted. Though the inherent optimism of a child is evident in many of his answers, throughout the book there are some sad and desperate reflections. Often, he says, autistic people are painfully aware of the unease they inspire in others, so they avoid contact to eliminate that awkwardness, and sadly, equally often that effort at empathy is not understood or appreciated.

“Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. How do you live when you’re dead?”

The life of an autistic is not all bad, though, he says, for, despite a myriad of challenges, autistics have much to offer, “like travelers from the distant, distant past,” serving as a reminder in this harried modern society of what is really important in life.


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