“For a long time I’ve been wondering why us people with autism can’t talk properly. I can never say what I really want to. Instead, verbal junk that hasn’t got anything to do with anything comes pouring out of my mouth. This used to get me down badly, and I couldn’t help envying all those people who speak without even trying. Our feelings are the same as everyone else’s, but we can’t find a way to express them.” (The Reason I Jump – p21)
Title: The Reason I Jump
Author: Naoki Higashida
Publication Date: 2013
Origin: I’m a fairly diligent viewer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and on October 2nd 2013 Jon’s guest was David Mitchell, the author of (among other things) Cloud Atlas. However, on this day David was on the show to discuss a book written by a 15 year-old boy in Japan: The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida. David had written an introduction to the book and, with his wife, translated it into English. What makes The Reason I Jump special is that Naoki is autistic, and this book is written from his perspective.
My mother is a retired Kindergarten teacher; my mother-in-law is a retired primary (grades 1-3) teacher; my sister-in-law is a social worker – these are all professions in which autism is a fairly prominent topic, so the subject comes up in discussion. Partly for this reason, and partly just because I’m generally interested in deeply understanding lots of things, I’ve taken more than a passing interest in the subject. I especially enjoyed the Autism Enigma episode of The Nature of Things. So my ears perked up a bit when I heard Jon introduce David and the reason for his visit, and started the discussion by describing The Reason I Jump as “One of the most remarkable books I think I’ve ever read.”
The interview was great, and only make my interest in the book grow. By about ten seconds in, I’d already decided to buy it, but I should nevertheless note that Jon was almost at a loss for words at the end when he uncharacteristically and passionately urged viewers to read the book: “The most illuminating book…I’ve ever read on the syndrome and the individual. I don’t normally urge you…The Reason I Jump is on the shelves right now. Please pick it up, it is remarkable.”
(A few days later, after The Reason I Jump had soared to the top of best-seller lists, Jon would genuinely thank his audience)
Summary: As I said, The Reason I Jump is Naoki’s way of providing insight into his perspective of autism. While he is for the most part unable to engage in conversation, his particular autism presentation does not prevent him from expressing himself via a keyboard (thanks to extensive support from his family and teachers). The book begins with an introduction from David Mitchell, and ends with a short-story written by Naoki. In between, the main body is composed of a series of questions (e.g., “Why do you echo questions back at the asker?”, “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?”, “What’s the worst thing about having autism?”) and Naoki’s thoughtful answers and detailed explanations.
My Take: The book is at times uplifting and inspirational, at times tear-jerking and upsetting, but absolutely always enlightening. I have a much greater appreciation for, and understanding of, autism for having read it, even if the insights are only limited to particular presentations (and I’m not saying the insights are limited, I’m just meaning to stress that even if they’re not generally applicable they are still worthwhile). It’s just a beautiful book.
The book is at times uplifting and inspirational, at times tear-jerking and upsetting, but absolutely always enlightening.
Read This Book If: You are even remotely interested in learning more about autism, or simply want to be amazed and inspired. In fact, even if you’re none of those, read it anyway if you get the opportunity and you will gain something.