An empowering story of autistic experience

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The Reason I Jump: One boy’s voice from the silence of autism
by Naoki Higashida
Sceptre, 2014. Pages: 192
We rate it: 5/5

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Note from reviewer, Feb 2022. I wrote this review in 2018 at a time when I had limited understanding of autistic experience. The original text contained ableist, naive and out-of-date phrasing. That came from a place of internalised ableism on my behalf as a then undiagnosed autistic person. I’ve updated the text in 2022 to better serve my readers and hope you’ll find it useful.

This month’s featured book for grown-ups provides insights on a subject many of us would benefit from understanding better. Naoki Higashida was 13 when he wrote The Reason I Jump about being autistic.

Higashida wrote using an alphabet grid developed by his mother. He found using non-vocal communication was an effective way to overcome his communication differences. This opened up ways for him to express and share his feelings and thoughts fully.

Although The Reason I Jump was published in Japan in 2007, it was not available in English till 2013. It was the endeavour of parents looking for more understanding that led to its translation from Japanese into English. Both The Reason I Jump and Higashida’s follow-up book – Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 – have been translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell.

Review of The Reason I Jump by Naoki Hagashida

After their son was diagnosed autistic, Yoshida and Mitchell searched for resources to provide insights and understanding. They found and read many books on the subject. The Reason I Jump uniquely provided an account by a young child of his feelings and experience.

Mitchell describes the insights that Higashida has been able to share as “transformative, life-enhancing knowledge”.

Striking revelations

One of the first revelations from The Reason I Jump comes in Higashida’s very first sentences. He describes how he did not realise he was a “kid with special needs” when he was very young.

People kept telling him he “was different from everyone else, and that this was a problem”. Unfortunatley, it can be common in our society to consider autistic people as a “problem”. People can have a lack of understanding of the ways in which autistic people can respond to sutuations or environments differently from them. Higashida explains that panics or meltdowns can be triggered by all sorts of things, including intense feelings of helplessness.

Another striking point was Higashida’s sense of joy at being able to communicate clearly by using an alphabet grid. He describes the difficulty of having spent so much time unable to express himself. “It’s like being a doll spending your whole life in isolation, without dreams and without hopes”.

Throughout the book Higashida reflects on the difficulty of not being able to verbally communicate with others and the frustration this can cause. He deals with the incorrect stereotype that autistic people lack feelings and emotion. He explains,

“Our feelings are the same as everyone else’s, but we can’t find a way to express them”.
Naoki Higashida

‘Not noticing’… is not the same as ‘deliberately ignoring’

The format of the book provides an accessible structure. Sections are broken up into questions being posed to the child, such as “Why don’t you do what you are told to straight away?” Higashida’s replies provide explanations of why this can happen. He also provides suggestions for positive approaches that could be helpful.

For example, one simple tip is to say the person’s name before speaking to them. This can help grab their attention so they are more likely to notice you are speaking to them. ” ‘Not noticing’… is not the same as ‘deliberately ignoring’,” Higashida reminds the reader.

Poetic writing and illustrations inspired by nature

However this book is not a “how to” kind of handbook, claiming to have all the answers. It encourages a flexible understanding of how different people can experience being autistic in different ways. It is written in a conversational tone and often feels like a friendly chat. Higashida’s writing style is also poetic and quite beautiful.

Higashida asks the reader to understand how it feels to struggle so much with communication. “Can you imagine how your life would be if you couldn’t talk?” This realisation is challenging and striking. But another wonderful aspect of Higashida’s book is that it is also very optimistic and hopeful.

Poignant yet optimistic short stories break up the question and answer format at intervals. Additionally the 2014 edition of The Reason I Jump is complimented with beautiful illustrations by Kai and Sunny. Their images relate to Higashida’s close connection to nature and help to create a sense of calm and balance within the book.

Surprising and transformative

The capabilities of autistic people can often be underestimated. Co-translator of the book, David Mitchell describes in this short video the surprise and shock he experienced when he read The Reason I Jump.

Mitchell speaks of how non-autistic people may assume that because someone cannot communicate their thoughts and feelings that they don’t have them. And that’s due to the lack of understanding of the non-autistic person rather than the other way round. Mitchell’s impression of his son has been transformed by reading Higashida’s book.

I’d highly recommend The Reason I Jump. The book provides more than an informative perspective, it is also a beautifully written piece of literature that’s a pleasure to read.

Over to you

Have you read The Reason I Jump? What did you think? I’d love to hear your views in the comments below.

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Angela

Angela is the kind of parent who wants to discuss the latest hero movie or middle-grade book series on the school run. She grew up on the Lord of the Rings books and has a background in education & publishing. She believes all children & young people can enjoy wonderful story-telling and loves sharing ideas with others.

Sheree

Fantastic!! I worry that so many of our narratives around the autism spectrum (and other neuro areas – dementia etc.) are so caregiver-focused, especially where the condition inhibits or frustrates communication. The stories of caregivers are, of course, extremely important, but I worry about them being accessed instead of – rather than in addition to – the stories of the people themselves. This sounds like an excellent one to add to the library of patient-centered narratives, thank you for sharing your review!

    Angela

    Thanks Sheree, I really agree, the perspective of those experiencing autism is often overlooked. This is a unique book, I definitely recommend it.

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