Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Review: "The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism" by Naoki Higashida

"Can you imagine how your life would be if you couldn't talk?"

The Reason I Jump was written by Naoki Higashida when he was 13 years old. (He is now 21.) Unable to speak more than a few words because of his autism, he learned how to communicate using a word grid and then a computer, and now has written several books of fiction and nonfiction. But this book is truly a mirror into his soul and his life, and it is both insightful and moving.

In the foreword he said, "I wrote this story in the hope that it will help you to understand how painful it is when you can't express yourself to the people you love. If this story connects with your heart in some way, then I believe you'll be able to connect back to the hearts of people with autism too."

If you've ever wondered what people with autism perceive about the world around them, and in particular instances, why they act a certain way (or don't), or seem to adopt certain characteristics or behaviors, Higashida answers those questions from his own sphere of experience. While not every autistic person reacts in the same manner, his explanations are tremendously insightful and helps broaden understanding about some common traits and patterns.

While this book is valuable simply as an information source, it is incredibly moving, almost heartbreaking, to see how many times Higashida refers to people "telling him off" or losing their patience with him because he continued doing things after repeatedly being told not to, or for reacting in a way contrary to the way people expected him to. He continually implores the reader not to "lose faith" or "give up" on autistic people. As he puts it, "The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people."

Written simply, in question-and-answer-style, and interspersed with a few parables and stories (including a short story Higashida wrote himself), The Reason I Jump was an eye-opener for me, someone who hasn't dealt with many people with autism. This is such a valuable and moving book, and I'd imagine it would be useful for anyone to learn not just about autism, but about the need for compassion for anyone. As Higashida mentions several times in the book, just because a person doesn't appear to understand what is going in on the world around them, or they're unable to communicate with people verbally, it doesn't mean they can't feel, or think, or perceive.

I'm grateful for Naoki Higashida for sharing his feelings and his thoughts, and grateful to author David Mitchell, and his wife KA Yoshida, for translating this book into English so it can be accessible to a much wider audience, one in desperate need of this information.

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