The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, 135 pages, memoir
Themes: autism acceptance, disability, understanding others, memoir,
An extremely in-depth and eye-opening look into how those with autism perceive the world. ★★★★☆
The Reason I Jump is a memoir written in 2005 by Naoki Higashida, a then-thirteen-year-old Japanese boy with severe autism. Diagnosed at the age of five, he has limited verbal communication, and so began expressing his thoughts through the use of an alphabet grid, where he would point to written Japanese characters to spell words and sentences.
The memoir is written in a question-answer format interwoven with ink illustrations and short sections of prose that stem from Higashida’s personal experiences. Each question is a commonly-asked topic about those with autism specifically, however, they also apply to other disabilities. Most of the questions surround the behaviors and actions of those with autism, and are a vector through which Higashida is a voice for those who cannot speak.
An example question: Q29: Why do you do things the rest of us don’t? Do your senses work differently in some way?
In every answer, Higashida combines personal experience and explanation to assist the reader in understanding why someone with autism may behave in a certain way. He describes the thought process behind his actions and how his sense of self is influenced by the outside world as well as his treatment by others. The author also includes several short stories, some of which convey a deeper message through symbolism, and others which eloquently describe the unattainable freedom he so yearns for through dreams of flying and becoming “normal.”
This memoir is an extremely interesting and personal novel which I truly appreciated reading. Higashida’s words touched me for their sincerity and, in some cases, their sorrow and torment, which I can only begin to understand. The author describes feeling like a prisoner in his own body, having no control over his behaviors and feeling like an alien in normal society. His writing is powerful, and opened my eyes to the inner emotions of a person with autism, which are sometimes hidden by an outer appearance of happiness.
I feel that the best way to understand someone is by learning from them directly, and Naoki’s novel provides that critical understanding to many people. The memoir is written by someone who directly experiences the effects of autism, and so is raw and real in such a way that his writing is unfiltered and gives the reader firsthand knowledge into his condition.
As one of Japan’s most famous authors, Higashida carries the gift of being able to educate people all over the world through his writing. His essays, books, and poetry work to spread awareness about autism and other conditions and be a voice for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves. Although the book is over a decade old (note: the English translation was published in 2013), the topic of autism acceptance and understanding is timeless and pertinent in today’s society. The unfortunate truth is that people with developmental disabilities and those who cannot verbalize their thoughts are misunderstood and marginalized.
By reading Higashida’s work, I began to view the pain those with disabilities carry for their impact on others, but also for being treated by others as inferior members of society. Through the memoir and other efforts, we can begin to lessen the burden on people with autism by becoming more accepting and compassionate, and by treating them with respect and kindness that is a right of every human being.