Naoki Higashida “The Reason I Jump”

Japanese book autism

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-year-old Boy with Autism
by Naoki Higashida

Non- Fiction – Paperback; Alfred A. Knopf, 2013; 135 pages.

Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell

With a forward by David Mitchell

Illustrations by Kai and Sunny

This is the first book about autism I’ve read in which I felt I could almost relate. “The Reason I Jump” seems to invite us to empathize, so I think it’s O.K. to indulge a little bit. By relating to Naoki and others like him, I think we can come away with a better understanding. At some level, we all have feelings of isolation and loneliness from not being understood, especially by those close to us, let alone the world at large.

     Naoki shows a maturity beyond his years. He is able to see himself and others with a wide lens. There is a satisfying feeling having a guide like him. The biggest reason is the sense of relief he conveys at finally being able to communicate with strangers.

     This book is part diary, part essay, part guidebook. It is meant to teach people what autism is really like, what’s really going on in the mind of someone who is autistic.

     With a simple question and answer format, Naoki shares what it’s like for him. This is not a book of research findings, or vague impressions. It is a straightforward, honest account. The simple style actually has a big impact, because you can feel how precious communication is for someone like Naoki: it has taken a lot of hard work, more than for most people, to unlock this part of life that most of us take for granted.

     “Not being able to talk means not being able to share what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s like being a doll spending your whole life in isolation, without dreams and without hopes.”

     It’s true, children with autism suffer greatly. Loneliness, frustration, depression. Naoki does not shy away from explaining these. However, his hope is that through this book he can teach us how to communicate with, understand, and hopefully accept autistic children and adults.

     I found this book very motivating to read. There is something very compelling about finding one’s voice. It is a watershed moment. Again, the things we take for granted, that we somehow instinctually do, like mimicking another’s speech patterns, or laughing when we know they’re making a joke, are so challenging for someone like Naoki. In his mind, his own thoughts make sense, but the world outside can appear all jumbled.

     “… it’s like I have to speak in an unknown foreign language, every minute of every day.”

     We have all struggled to articulate what we’re really thinking. Yet when we know we’ve been misunderstood, we try again, we say things a different way, we navigate topics and conversations and play with language in a way that just comes out. Somehow, especially with people we know well, our way of speaking and listening synchronizes.

     Not so for an autistic mind. Saying what you’re really thinking is so difficult. Eye contact is difficult. Paying attention is difficult. Observing social cues like smiling and nodding makes no sense. Changing your expression to suit what someone is saying, or what you are saying, is almost impossible. Naoki explains all of this.

     Ironically, he is patient as he does so. That’s what really blew me away about this book. The book has a soft tone of patience that only someone who is very practiced at waiting to be understood can project. Sure, he experiences shame and misery when he loses control, as he still often does. And he admits that when people constantly reminded him of being different, odd, wrong, inconvenient, irritating, it can make him depressed, if he allows it. But again, he has learned to be patient with us. When asked if he could be normal, he’s not so sure. He feels normal to himself. So why change?

     Again, I attempted to relate to Naoki’s feeling of awkwardness, but also to his feeling of liberation and acceptance. We’ve all had those awful conversations where we just want to run away, or scream, but somehow we manage to paste a smile and stick it out. Naoki? He jumps.

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