I have several friends who have children on the autism spectrum, and being in the education world I think it’s important that I understand as much as I can. My sister is a special education teacher and she works with autistic children every day. I sent her this book.
The Reason I Jump was written by a 13-year-old boy in Japan, Naoki Higashida. His autism is so severe that he can’t communicate verbally, but he was able to use special software to write this book, which is possibly the only book about autism written by an autistic child.
It’s translated by David Mitchell, one of my favorite authors, and his wife. In his introduction, he explains that they have an autistic child, and he struggled to understand what was going on in his child’s head. He said he read tons of books about autism, but most of them weren’t much help, until this one. So he translated it into English.
This is a short read, and most of it is Naoki answering common questions about autism, like why children with autism fidget or flap their fingers or jump (hence the title). Sprinkled throughout the book are short works of creative fiction, giving us a better idea of Naoki’s experience being autistic.
My husband and I have discussed whether people with autism have empathy – in this book Naoki says, and demonstrates, that they do. Naoki understands how people are feeling around him. He understands when people are uncomfortable, or sad, or upset. He just isn’t capable of responding in a way we understand.
When someone can’t communicate with us, we see them as unintelligent. When they can’t show emotion, we see them as emotionless. I’m guilty of that. But in this book Naoki shows himself as a thoughtful, intelligent young man who lacks control over his body and mind in many ways. He each person with autism has their own challenges and gifts.
It makes me sad to think that children like Naoki, are conscious of their differences, wanting to communicate with others but are unable to. In some ways it’s easier to think of them as being off in their own worlds. But at the same time, Naoki points out that there are things he loves about who he is, like his connection to nature, and his ability to focus. For example:
When a color is vivid or a shape is eye-catching, then that’s the detail that claims our attention, and then our hearts kind of drown in it, and we can’t concentrate on anything else. Every single thing has its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it’s a kind of blessing given to us.
I’m guessing that what touches you in nature is the beauty of the trees and the flowers and things. But to us people with special needs, nature is as important as our own lives. The reason is that when we look at nature, we receive a sort of permission to be alive in this world, and our entire bodies get recharged. However often we’re ignored and pushed away by other people, nature will always give us a good big hug, here inside our hearts.
For teachers and parents, Naoki has plenty of suggestions, some very practical and a few of them surprising (like not posting schedules in the classroom because they create anxiety). Not surprisingly, his most frequent suggestion is “be patient with us.”
I expected to encounter some cultural differences in the writing because the writer is Japanese, but his writing is direct and heartfelt and nothing seemed foreign to me. While the writing is a little awkward at times, it’s impossible to tell if that’s because he’s 13 years old, he’s autistic, or it’s simply the translation. Either way, it doesn’t matter.
I would imagine there are very few people whose lives aren’t touched by autism in some way – which makes this an important book for all of us to read. I’m not a teacher or a parent, so I don’t really know much – but I hope I have a little more understanding of what my friends and their autistic children are experiencing.