On being autistic: a personal witness

Naoki Higashida's The Reason I Jump - One Boy’s Voice From The Silence Of Autism

IN HIS extraordinary book, The Reason I Jump - One Boy’s Voice From The Silence Of Autism, Naoki Higashida, an autistic boy aged 13, writes: “We are misunderstood and we’d give anything if only we could be understood properly...Please, understand what we really are, and what we’re going through.”

When asked to give an example of what people with autism really enjoy, he responds: “We do take pleasure in one thing you probably won’t be able to guess. Namely, making friends with nature. The reason we aren’t much good at people skills is that we think too much about what sort of impression we are making on the other person, or how we should be responding to this or that. But nature is always there to wrap us up gently, glowing, swaying, bubbling, rustling”.

David Mitchell, renowned author of Cloud Atlas, whose son is autistic, and whose wife is Japanese, writes in the introduction: “One day my wife received a remarkable book she had ordered from Japan called The Reason I Jump. Its author Naoki Higashida, was born in 1992 and was still in junior high-school when the book was published. Naoki’s autism is severe enough to make spoken communication pretty much impossible, even now. But thanks to an ambitious teacher and his own persistence, he learnt to spell out words directly onto an alphabet grid...

“Even in primary school this method enabled him to communicate with others, and compose poems and story books, but it was his explanations about why children with autism do what they do that were, literally the answers that we were waiting for. Composed by a writer still with one foot in childhood, and whose autism was at least as challenging and life-altering as our son’s, The Reason I Jump was a revelatory godsend. It felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head, through Naoki’s head.”

While the book may not be as powerful an eye opener for everybody as it was for the Mitchells, it certainly provides the reader with a no holds barred, down to earth, fully comprehensible, and authentic description of what it means to be an autistic child and does it without apology.

The most remarkable aspect of this book is the translation itself. To take the words of an autistic Japanese youth written obviously from the heart and with real power and feeling, to translate this extraordinary personal human witness into an equally simple, powerful, and effective English is a work of real genius.

The book is rife with marvellous examples of this genius as: “I’m not asking you to deliberately use difficult language when you talk to people with autism – just that you treat us as we are, according to our age. Every single time I’m talked down to, I end up feeling utterly miserable – as if I’m being given a zero chance of a decent future. True compassion is not about bruising the other person’s self-respect. That’s what I think anyway.”

Towards the end of the book: “We cry, we scream, we hit out and break things. But still we don’t want you to give up on us. Please, keep battling alongside us. We are the ones who are suffering the most in these scenes, and badly want to free ourselves from our own chains... When this is happening to us, please just let us cry, or yell, and get it all out. Stay close by and keep a gentle eye on us and while we’re swept up in our torment, please stop hurting ourselves or others.”

For anybody dealing with an autistic family member, friend, acquaintance, or other human being, The Reason I Jump is a guiding light. Our grandson Deasúin was diagnosed as being autistic less than a year ago. The amount of information, suggestions, and comments fired at us were all well-meaning but often misinformed, misplaced, or indeed misunderstood.

The Reason I Jump has proved to be a true guiding light in helping my wife and me have a true understanding of where Deasúin is, where he is going, and how we can help him to get there.

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