I have an unusual habit of googling about books before reading them. And I don’t usually read books with lower Goodreads or Barnes&Nobel rating (lower than 4.5 or so) to be really honest, unless it’s recommended to me. When I had googled about books on ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder (I prefer to use this term), many names popped up, some with 5/5 ratings, even with ”98% liked this by Google Books” but most of them were written by therapists, parents, close friends, spouses, neighbours, etc of the patients. But I wanted something much more deep-seated. And I found this. This piece is an exception.
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism is written by Naoki Higashida, suffering from ASD himself, at the age of 13. So, it’s basically a short biography disguised as a memoir. He didn’t literally write it himself as Higashida used a hand-over-hand method, in which a person supports the wrist of the nonverbal person (in this case Higashida), and interprets the letters before weaving them into words and then sentences. Although this method was deemed with much controversy, later on, it gained popularity. The book consists of a few chapters, each with multiple segments, each consisting of a question at first, 58 to be exact and then the answer. There are some other chapters e.g., the introduction and the conclusion. The questions aforementioned are mostly Naoki’s own thoughts. Few of them are quite generic, like why a person with ASD would not listen to others, why they are so picky about their clothing and food, repetitive, too sensitive or sometimes insensitive to pain, etc. Yet some are truly fascinating, for example and quoting Naoki here, “Why do you echo questions back at the asker?”, “Why do you wave goodbye with your palm facing yourself?”, “Why do you memorise train timetables and calendars?”, “Why do you need cues and prompts?”, “Do you need visual schedules?” and so on. My favourite ones are: “What are your flashback memories like?” and “Would you like to be ‘normal’?”. I was honestly stunned when I read the answers to these, especially, the latter one. It went something like this, “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.” I won’t talk any further about the content to avoid undesirable spoilers.
The title of Naoki’s book is very appropriate. He explains why he needs movement in order to determine where his body is located in space. Movements such as spinning provide calm and bliss. Naoki writes, “Just watching spinning things fills me with everlasting bliss.” He also explains how flicking his fingers in front of his eyes provides light in a pleasant, filtered manner. Utter importance of different movements has been conferred here pleasantly.
Naoki is very clear that people with autism want to be social. He values the company of other people. This struck me very hard. To explain this, call me backdated, but in this decade of 2020, the way we are depending on smart devices, especially children having anti-social behaviour and whatnot, we are losing human touch in different aspects in our lives. To a completely healthy person, this might not be even an issue, but to someone, say with ASD, he would suffer much having to be alone this way despite being amidst so much crowd most of the time.
Maybe, because of the fact that I have never read any book on such an issue before, this book was one of my best-reads. When I had researched the book, I could foresee the in-depth insight of the author, given it is an autobiography. But, I was completely taken aback by how much I could relate to it, even as a person with no such knowledge or discernment in ASD. Hence, I chose to review this particular piece as a challenge to my understanding over the topic and hopefully I have done justice to it.
In conclusion, I would say, this book gave me the perception of self-contentment, to be content with whatever we have. To think about it for one second, do we even bother to realise how lucky we really are? To quote Higashida as he prefaces in the book: “I wrote this story in the hope that it will help you to understand how painful it is when you can’t express yourself to the people you love.” Thus, to understand this community of people, not to only be empathetic to them but to truly appraise their life for what it is, this augmented life story from Higashida is a must-read.