By Andrew Oliveira
You’re stuck on a desert island. But you have a broken down radio. It squeaks and gurgles, every message you send is in pieces, and every other transmission received is in a different language. Communication works, sometimes, but not reliably. This is the experience of those on the autistic spectrum, very human minds trying to get the outside world to hear them.
That is one of the revelations of Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump. I first heard of this little book when watching The Daily Show. David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, was promoting the book, which he wrote the introduction for and co-translated. He explained how he had started an underground translation from Japanese to English for those who worked with his autistic son. The Reason I Jump is structured into a series of questions and short pieces of fiction. Higasada wrote the book at 13, yet his writing has a wise and honest quality that most adults struggle to capture. As Mitchell points out, this type of writing is a rarity and part of the book’s appeal. Higashida takes the questions posed to him and responds with an astounding maturity, explaining every aspect of his disability and how it affects the way he thinks. For instance, when he is asked if he would like a cure for his disability, he responds that he often thought that way when he was younger. Yet now he would refuse, because he is happy with his life.
As I was reading the book, it almost started to feel like these answers were being addressed to me. Some of the questions were ones that I would have felt rude asking but genuinely made me curious. For example, “Why don't you make eye contact when you’re talking?”
Higashida’s response is completely understandable once read, “To me, making eye contact with someone I’m talking to feels a bit creepy, so I tend to avoid it.”
He then explains how concentrating and listening to someone requires his entire focus. He literally attempts to feel, hear, and see a person’s voice when they are talking to him, which makes the simple act of conversation a herculean effort.
Higashida’s fiction is simple, beautiful and true to his experiences. It is in these pieces that he brings his views of isolation and mixes them with his reality. In some ways it is more effective at relaying what it is like to have autism.
The Reason I Jump is a short, delightful snack; a perfect read for quick bursts or an entire afternoon. It is a great book and a must-read, even for those who do not know anyone with autism but are curious to peek into this world. The greatest gift this book offers is the realization that our reaction to autism creates its isolation but not its symptoms.