I have a friend, who shall remain nameless for privacy purposes, who has an adolescent son with Autism. Whenever I saw him, he seemed so consumed in his own mind that I wondered what was going on there. What was he thinking? Since then, the otherwise-nonverbal son has started to express himself through paper and pencil. His mom now knows his inner world, at least, more so than she did before. His writing and spelling skills are virtually perfect, and he has an eidetic memory. He was locked within his mind for so long that one can only imagine the pleasure she gets out of seeing him express his feelings and emotions.
Thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida is a brilliant boy with Autism who offers us a rare glimpse into his private world in ‘The Reason I Jump,’ a book of questions and answers about people with Autistic Spectrum with Autism. As someone with (very mild) Asperger’s, I found myself relating to some of Higashida’s prose. My difficulties are not as challenging as someone who is severely on the spectrum (and I shouldn’t pretend like they are,) but I felt a pang of recognition at certain points; for instance, the passage about Higashida’s horrible sense of direction (when left on my own, I will get badly lost even in places I somewhat recognize.)
I found the foreword by writer and David Mitchell somewhat dry, and was offended by his allegation that people with Autism are unable to understand what you’re saying, which is as detrimental as it is untrue. To be honest, there is an immaturity in some of Naoki Higashida’s writing, which is nearly inevitable considering the writer’s young age. When you compare him to an adult writer, it leaves you wanting a bit more from his writing style. When you match him up against his peers, however, his precociousness is impressive.
Above all, ‘The Reason I Jump’ was very eye-opening and informative. It is an explanation of everything from meltdowns, preoccupation with sameness, to extracurricular interests and the eponymous ‘reason we jump.’ Of course, Higashida’s reasons for classic Autistic behavior can seem a little too pat and cannot apply to everyone with the disorder, but it serves as a pretty good springboard for discussion about Autism and the understanding and treatment of people with disabilities in general.
At the end of the book, I was in for a treat. The final chapter, a short story written by the author titled “I’m Right Here,” showed a maturity and prowess beyond his years. Who says people on the Spectrum can’t be creative? The story, which compares Autism to being a recently dead spirit desperate to communicate with loved ones, is very touching and lovely. The writing is fluid and beautiful, and you cannot help but be moved as the main character faces an agonizing choice.
‘The Reason I Jump’ is utterly original, and will be a lifesaver for people struggling to understand their kids. I think Naoki Hagashida has a great career in front of him as a memoirist, a writer, and an advocate for the Autistic, especially those who can’t speak for themselves He is a boy of uncommon courage and candor, and what is there not to like about that? A powerful, however brief, read.