Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, ‘The Reason I Jump’ is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.
Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights – into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory – are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.
How familiar are you with autism?
I’m very familiar with it. It’s a condition that plays a large role in my family dynamics, and one I have seen and experienced the consequences of on a daily basis for fifteen years. So seeing this book for £1 in a charity shop, I felt I had to give it a go. A non-fiction memoir by a thirteen-year-old Japanese boy with autism, giving him the opportunity to express the feelings he cannot verbalise, this book opened up a very important opportunity: the opportunity to ‘see inside the mind’ of a child with autism, which is something a lot of people crave. Translated by novelist David Mitchell (of ‘Cloud Atlas’ fame) and his Japanese wife Keiko Yoshida – parents of an autistic child – this book has attracted both praise and scepticism in equal measure.
- Higashida’s story is an emotional one. Unable to express his true feelings verbally to other people, he uses a method of communication based on an alphabet grid. His own story in itself is inspirational to those who struggle and crave to get their opinions across.The intentions of this book are also very important. ‘The Reason I Jump’ aims to provide answers to some of the most common questions posed to autistic people, not all of whom are able to provide an answer; my autistic relative certainly couldn’t. As well as answering questions for those who are not themselves autistic, it provides a kind of comfort and understanding for those with autism who may feel the same, or have common traits with Higashida.
- Some of the questions this book addresses about autism are questions that I have thought and asked many times myself: ‘why do you ask the same questions over and over?’, ‘do you prefer to be on your own?’ and ‘when you have a panic, what is on your mind?’ and I think it is incredibly important for parents, relatives and carers of autistic children that these questions are answered in some capacity.
- Obviously given its writer, this book is by no means scientific. If you go searching for answers to questions about behavioural conditions, you are most likely to find a book which talks through them in scientific ways. Whilst sometimes seeming more reassuring, it is not always what you want – inaccessible, unemotive and sometimes just unhelpful, science just cannot answer some questions the way experience can.
- The book is very quick and easy to read. Each ‘chapter’ is the answer to a single question (with 58 questions asked in total), and each answer is only one to three pages long, with the book only 178 pages in total.
- The writing itself – while I have some ‘issues’ I will mention later – is very enjoyable to read, even if it does get a little philosophical at points.
- Among the questions, there is a handful of short stories (of a couple of pages in length) by Higashida, both non-fiction ‘memories’ and works of fiction, relating loosely to autism, and the book concludes with the longest story (circa 25 pages), entitled ‘I’m Right Here’. This concluding story and one of the shorter ones, ‘The Black Crow and the White Dove’, are both great stories in their own right.
- Autism is such a subjective condition. What this book does is provide one person’s take on their condition, which at times may provide answers that are relatable to all, but generally is rather philosophical in a way that not everyone with the condition will agree with. Nonetheless, it is interesting to read this boy’s view on his condition.
- Apart from the two stories I mentioned above, I did not like the rest of the stories interspersed between questions, and I often failed to grasp their purpose within the text.
- There is a lot of controversy surrounding this book’s authorship. Higashida was a thirteen-year-old autism sufferer when he wrote this, and questions have been asked over the involvement of his interpretor mother, and of the book’s translators, in fleshing out the work. While I am not in the camp who believe that the book ‘does not sound like someone with autism’ as I believe that autism is in no way a barrier to being a talented writer and thinker, this book admittedly does not read as the musings of any thirteen-year-old, autistic or not. Obviously, I read this in its English translation (having originally been written in Higashida’s native Japanese) and so liberties will have been taken in the translation, but I do understand people’s comments implying that the work cannot be entirely attributed to Higashida – the tone of the book reads quite a lot like that of David Mitchell, rather than a teenage boy. I do believe that, while Higashida’s intentions are at the heart of the novel, the words may not be his, and the translation may take a little larger life than would be expected. I would be interested to read the original Japanese prose, but I have no intention of learning Japanese any time soon…
Would I recommend? – Ultimately, yes. For such a quick read, this text – whoever wrote it – raises some interesting points on autism, and that is always important.