Boy answers questions about living with autism

Christopher Banner

By A Contributor

When he was 13 years old, Naoki Higashida wrote a different sort of book on autism. Most books on the subject are written by neurotypical (normal) adults, typically a specialist writing in a technical idiom, or a relative or friend; each discusses it from their particular neurotypical point of view and understanding.

Since the world of the autistic is as unknown and incomprehensible to the neurotypical, as the world of the neurotypical is to the autistic, and since “The Reason I Jump” was written by an autistic boy, it is particularly interesting and enlightening, for it can be read by both groups. Higashida reminds us, however, that each autism case is different, that his life’s experiences probably are not the same as for other autistics.

Higashida has always had great difficulty communicating through speech, but he can write well. Instead of looking at his autistic world from the outside and trying to guess what went on inside of him, he looked inside of himself, and wrote what he saw occurring.

He wrote (in the translation, at least) in plain language, which made this book a New York Times best seller. His book is of special interest to parents of noticeably autistic children.

Higashida’s presentation is in the form of 58 one page long questions and answers.  The title comes from question 25, “What is the reason you jump?”  His answer, in part, is, “[W]hen I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upwards to the sky…. I can feel my body parts really well, too… and that makes me feel so, so good…. People with autism react physically to feelings of happiness and sadness.”

Question 24, “Would you like to be ‘normal’?” is the one that so many neurotypicals ask or would like to ask. He probably is a fairly highly functioning autistic.  His reply, in part, is “…I’ve learned that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness.  For us, you see, having autism is normal—so we can’t know for sure what your ‘normal’ is even like. But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we’re normal or autistic.”

What he does not say is that neurotypical and autistic brains are created, or “wired,” differently, and it is not really possible for either to change very much.

Other questions include: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?”  “What’s the worst thing about having autism?”

This is a small book, about the size of a “Reader’s Digest,” and only 135 pages long. The introduction claims that you could read it in only 90 minutes.

Higashida includes page long sketches and a twenty-one page story, “I’m Right Here,” which is about a boy who died in a traffic accident and went to heaven; his parents grieved for him for a long time afterwards.

The relevance of the story to the rest of the book is hard to see, except that the story deals with people’s inability to communicate words and feelings, which is a common problem for autistics.

He also includes black and white drawings reminiscent of the classical Japanese style, which, while nice, do not have an obvious relevance to the topic of the book.

“The Reason I Jump” has no table of contents or index, which makes it difficult to find a particular question.

Higashida, born in 1992, has written several other books, and is an inspirational speaker—quite an accomplishment for someone of his age and handicap.

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