the reason i jump: one Boy’s voice From the silence of autism
Naoki Higashida (translated by LA Yoshida, introduced by David Mitchell) Random House
Naoki Higashida wrote this book when he was 13. It's his meditation on his life – he suffers from autism, though to say he suffers is to play into the stereotypes he dismisses via a thoughtful, dream-like explanation of the challenges that make up his world.
The author David Mitchell introduces this English-language translation of Higashida's partmemoir/part-textbook; an evocation of a behind-the-scenes/inside-themachine This Is My Life. The book brought spiritual aid and solace to Mitchell and his wife; parents of an autistic child. They set about creating this translation to share the work with others. There's a strange prescience to it all too, given Mitchell explored his own battle with stammering via the 13 year old narrator of his novel, Black Swan Green (written right around the time that The Reason I Jump was penned).
Higashida includes short prayer-like stories and diary-styled entries but for the most part this slim volume plays out as answers to a series of questions. Each chapter heading is a question – a myth that Higashida then sets about busting.
He writes beautifully – at times there's grace and naive charm as well as a deep philosophical forethought. In assessing why autistic people like being in water he says “we are a different kind of human, born with primeval senses”. He goes on to explain that “when we look at nature, we receive a sort of permission to be alive in this world, and our entire bodies get recharged”.
To read this book as a parent is to be forewarned/forearmed I guess, there would almost be something unsettling about it if it weren't for the humour and matter of factness of Higashida's prose. There's something sparkling in this work, like the twinkling of an eye; there's a deep profundity. I get that it could be read as a self-help styled book, though for carers/family rather than for the afflicted. I get that it could also be taken on as a series of dream-like reveries, medical/psychological prose-poems. But I also read it in the way that a page-turner of a thriller or the best biography has you gripped. I wanted, with each page, to know more. And found of course that I did. I was let into Higashida's world. A remarkable world.
Brilliantly he unpacks the confusing world that he lives in and the confused world that rushes to wrap him in cotton wool, pointing out – as Mitchell expounds too – that those with autism actually have an excess of the qualities they are supposed to (apparently) lack. There is therefore hypersensitivity rather than insensitivity. It's a complex world for any of us. And this wonderful book helped me to understand my own place in this puzzle as well as providing steps toward empathy for those that see things in a different way altogether.