The Reason I Jump: The inner voice of a thirteen-year-old boy with autism by Naoki Higashida
Translated by K. A. Yoshida and David Mitchell. Random House, 2013.
The introduction to this remarkable book begins, 'The thirteen year-old author of this book invites you, his reader, to imagine a daily life in which your faculty of speech is taken away. Explaining that you're hungry, or tired, or in pain, is now as beyond your powers as a chat with a friend . . . Now imagine that after you have lost your ability to communicate, the editor-in-residence who orders your thoughts, walks away without notice . . . A dam-burst of ideas, memories, impulses and thoughts is cascading over you, unstoppably. Your editor controlled this flow, diverting the vast majority away, and recommending just a tiny number for your conscious consideration. But now you're on your own. Now your mind is a room where twenty radios, all tuned to different stations, are blaring out voices and music. The radios have no off-switches or volume controls . . . and relief will only come when you're too exhausted to stay awake.'
On top of that the editor of your senses has also quit and you are now bombarded by all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of the environment without filters so each clamours equally for attention; your vestibular and proprioceptive senses are disturbed so the floor keeps tilting and you have no sense of where your hands are feet are in relation to the rest of you. Your mother tongue is a foreign language and you have no concept of time.
Such is the life sentence of the person with autism, and it is a life that we, as teachers, need to have some concept of as more and more children on the autism spectrum come under our care. Thus, the importance of this book. In it, Naoki, who is able to use a device which enables him to communicate via writing, provides some insight into what it is like to live in an unfiltered world without the internal connections to make sense of it.
He starts by writing, 'When I was small, I didn't even know that I was a kid with special needs. How did I find out? By other people telling me that I was different from everyone else, and that this was a problem.' And one of the most consistent messages that comes through his writing is his concern that his needs and inabilities are a problem for those around him. Written in a question-and-answer format, this articulate young man tries to explain some of the behaviours that are associated with autism so we can understand that they are not based on defiance, malice, or any intentional motive. Full of quotable quotes, there is an overwhelming sense of isolation and a desire to please, and a realisation for the reader that the greatest gift we can give Naoki and all autistic children is our time and patience. Repeatedly he begs us 'not to give up' on him.
The autistic child's fascination with numbers which are constant is explained; their need to order and repeat becomes clear and their connection to nature made obvious. This latter is underpinned by the most remarkable illustrations - monotone prints which focus on the natural lines, shapes and patterns that we so often don't appreciate because we don't even see them. Interspersed are observations and short stories that Naoki has written - he says he aspires to be a writer but it is clear he already is.
This book took me about 90 minutes to read; it will take me so much longer to reflect on and learn from, and it will change my understanding for ever.