Book Review: The Reason I Jump

In honor of our next project to gift after-school jump rope lessons to a kiddo with Autism, I am thrilled to post a review of The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism, by Naoki Higashida.

I first heard of the book on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart being a long term comedic crush of mine. And when he said that The Reason I Jump is “one of the most remarkable books I think I’ve ever read” – well, you can imagine that I was firing up Amazon on my cell to order it, in real time.

Jon Stewart interviewed the book’s introduction writer and co-translator, David Mitchell (who has incidentally written other quite notable works of fiction, including Cloud Atlas), and who shares a son on the spectrum with wife and co-translator, KA Yoshida. 

The book was originally published in Japan back in 2007, and when they happened upon it several years back, it became a key to understanding their own son better. They had taken to translating it informally to share with friends, family, teachers, and therapists, and made an offical translation for the rest of us this year.

Japanese teenager Naoki is “non-vocal,” and learned to communicate through an alphabet board, although he now also types. And reading into his strikingly complex inner thoughts reveals a boy deeply aware of his differences; poetic, yet charmingly direct, he answers a series of questions like:

Why do you talk weirdly? 
Answer: “…the words we want to say and the words we can say don’t always match that well.” 
Why don’t you look people in the eye?
Short answer: too creepy. Long answer: because he is focusing so much on hearing and understanding your words that his eyes are unfocused anyhow.
Why do you jump?
Answer: “When I’m jumping, I can feel my body parts really well… my bounding legs and my clapping hands- and that makes me feel so, so good.”

Naoki uncovers the beauty in seeing the world in fine detail (Dr. Temple Grandin calls this the “specialist mind”), and the sheer bliss he finds in nature, in routines, in repetition, swimming, and in laughing under his duvet at night all by himself.

Naoki also eloquently articulates how heartbreakingly maladapted he can be to this world- struggling to communicate can be like “drowning in a flood of words,” the physical pain of battling with daily sensory overload (such as loud noises), feeling trapped in a non-responsive body that seems like a “faulty robot,” being out of sync with our notion of time, the isolation of feeling like an “Autisman” in an Earthling world, and ultimately, the shame in being acutely aware that some of his irrepressible behaviors are simply socially unacceptable.

In his introduction to the book, David Mitchell notes that in the Japanese language, three characters come together to mean Autism: self, shut, and illness.

And yet, when questioned about his feelings on having Autism, Naoki states: “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.” Word.



PS Check out the Jon Stewart interview of David Mitchell here.

PPS Apologies to my independent bookstore-evangelizing + owning sister for the Amazon reference- I only go there on surgical strike-style book buying missions and still love stumbling upon happy epistolary accidents at your place best of all. Pinky swear!

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