Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

Naoki Higashida was 13 years old when he wrote The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-old Boy with Autism. He communicates by spelling out words on an alphabet grid, which are then transcribed by a helper.

The Reason I Jump was translated into English by author David Mitchell and his wife KA Yoshida, who have a son with autism. In the introduction, Mitchell writes that Higashida's writings offered them "transformative, life-enhancing knowledge" that people with autism do experience empathy. "The conclusion is that both emotional poverty and an aversion to company are not symptoms of autism but consequences of autism, its harsh lockdown on self-expression and society's near-pristine ignorance about what's happening inside autistic heads."

The book is small and attractively-presented, with full page artwork by Kai and Sunny. The question and answer format is broken up by brief fables composed by Higashida. Even so, it took me a long time to get through it because I read only a little at a time, much the way I read short stories.

Higashida answers questions like Why do you ignore us when we are talking to you? and Why are you always running off somewhere? and Should we listen to every word you say? The answer to that last one is no. "Just because some of us can make sounds or utter words, it doesn't follow automatically that what we've said is really what we wanted to say."

This unusual memoir is suitable for readers from about age 11 and up. It's a remarkable look at the inner  emotional, intellectual and spiritual life of someone with neurological differences.

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