The Reason I Jump was written by its author, Naoki Higashida, when he was just 13. He is autistic and non-verbal, and wrote the work with a character-board and an assistant who transcribed the characters one by one. The result of this painstaking effort is both direct and haunting – a true-to-life account of what it is like inside an autistic self.
The Reason I Jump was translated by David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) and his wife K.A. Yoshida, after they read it in its original Japanese and found it enormously helpful in understanding their own autistic son. Behaviour that was perplexing, even alarming, is given some rationale or motivation by Higashida’s work. In his introduction, Mitchell gives us an arresting overview of the impact of having this disorder, especially in its severe forms:
“…imagine a daily life in which your faculty of speech is taken away. … the editor-in-residence who orders your thoughts walks out without notice. … To make matters worse, another hitherto unrecognized editor has just quit without notice – your editor of the senses.”
The result is cognitive and sensory chaos, “your mind is a room where twenty radios, all tuned to different stations, are blaring out voice and music.” The efforts of the mind to order, filter and select what we will give our attention to is radically disrupted by autism – permanently. While reading this introduction, I began to appreciate the heroism behind the production of this volume – and the reaching out to the ‘neurotypicals’ that it implies. Indeed, one of the most popular notions about autism is that its sufferers are indifferent to others—loners, locked in their world and quite content to stay that way. The Reason I Jump, is, among other things, a plea to us to revise this outdated notion.
Higashida’s slim memoir is structured around a series of questions asked by ‘neurotypical’ people of autistics, Higashida explains the logic behind many baffling behaviours, such as jumping on the spot, suddenly running away and talking completely off-topic. To the question, “Why do you ask the same questions over and over?”, he answers, “I very quickly forget what it is I’ve just heard. Inside my head there really isn’t such a big difference between what I was told just now, and what I heard a long, long time ago.” Perception of time is an impairment in even high-functioning autistics and those with Asperger’s Syndrome, leading them to adopt rigid routines and ritualistic behaviour to impose structure on what seems a chaos of random experiences. Understood in this way, the behaviour has its reasons.
However, Higashida also admits that there are many things that he finds himself doing for which he can offer no explanation. To the question asked by many a frustrated parent, “Why do you do things you shouldn’t even when you’ve been told a million times not to?”, Higashida can only offer a forlorn answer: “It’s as if something that isn’t us is urging us on. … We know we’re making you sad and upset, but it’s as if we don’t have any say in it.”
The little-discussed sensory-motor elements of autism are also explained from the inside by Higashida, “You can’t always tell just by looking at people with autism, but we never really feel that our bodies are our own. They’re always acting up and going outside our control.” Reading words such as these give neurotypicals an insight into what it is like to occupy a body that will not cooperate in childhood games or sports. Given that games and sports form such a large part of childhood and adolescence, it is easy to see how those on the autistic spectrum end up isolated.
Higashida challenges our ideas that isolation is a symptom of autism; rather, he argues that it is a consequence of being unable to communicate or participate in group life. The Reason I Jump also puts paid to the popular notion that a child on the autistic spectrum has no empathy or insight into their own feelings or the feelings of others. Higashida explains that it is more an awareness that they cannot connect properly with others or negotiate the complex and fluid dance of social interaction successfully that results in withdrawal and aloofness. Emotions are more mysterious and more illegible for the autistic person, but they are not absent – they are in a sense untranslatable into the emotional language of neurotypical people. Higashida appeals directly to the reader in a way that makes it clear that there is a strong desire to be part of the social world, “But please, whatever you do, don’t give up on us. We need your help.” The most heart-piercing moment in the text was Higashida’s admission that even a child as impaired as he is well aware of the moments of frustration experienced by those around him, and that this generates enormous feelings of shame and hopelessness, “The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people.”
And the reason he jumps? “[W]hen I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upwards to the sky. Really, my urge to be swallowed up by the sky is enough to make my heart quiver.” There is an existential glee here, the joy of an action being reason enough to do it.
The Reason I Jump is accompanied by gorgeous and haunting illustrations from the duo Kai and Sunny. These artworks resonate with the inner world of which Higashida offers us a glimpse. They also complement the haunting short stories and vignettes included in the volume alongside the Q & A material.
The Reason I Jump would make a great selection for reading groups and would be productively paired with Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. When I finished reading this volume I felt gratitude for the boy who wrote it and his many helpers who have brought it to the world.
Kai and Sunny: http://www.kaiandsunny.com/
Reviews of The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell.
The précis and reader discussion on Good Reads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16169865-the-reason-i-jump