Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Reason I Jump

I saw an interview Jon Stewart did with David Mitchell. Mitchell wasn't there to talk about his own books, like Cloud Atlas. He was on The Daily Show talking about a book written by a young autistic Japanese student.

Naoki Higashida was 13 years old when he wrote The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism, which he wrote using an alphabet grid developed by one of his teachers.


One of the reasons David Mitchell was so enthusiastic about this book was that Naoki was still basically a child when he wrote it. As a parent of an autistic child, Mitchell felt that Naoki's book gave real insight into what it is like to live with autism. I think his enthusiasm was well-founded.

Naoki writes the book as answers to questions. Here is an example...

Why do you need cues and prompts?

People with autism are sometimes unable to move on to their next action without a verbal prompt. For example, even after we ask for a glass of juice and are given it, we won't actually start drinking until someone's said, 'Enjoy', or 'Go ahead and drink, then.' Or even after the person with autism has announced, 'Right, I'll hang the laundry now', he won't get started until someone has said back, 'Okay, that's great'.

I don't really know why some people with autism need these cues, but I do know that I'm one of them. Since we already know what we'll be doing next, surely we should just be able to get on with it unprompted, right? Yes, I think so too! But the fact is, doing the action without the cue can be really, really tough...

I like how Naoki describes the need for the prompt, that he recognizes that it is something he struggles with, and that he recognizes that not all people with autism need cues and prompts.

Naoki clearly explained his thought processes throughout the book. In addition, he explained how he perceives the world, feelings he has, how his body sometimes reacts without him being able to control it, as well as how desperately he wants to be accepted and cared for.

I've seen kids with autism as a teacher in classrooms and in public. This book helped me understand behaviors I've seen like rocking, not making eye contact, and not responding when someone talks to them. Naoki explains these behaviors from his own perspective, how life with autism is from the inside.

In the book, Naoki sometimes answers questions about just himself, and other times he generalizes about everyone with autism. This has caused some controversy.

Mitchell, whose wife is Japanese (which is maybe how they discovered this book?), found Naoki's book and got it translated into English because he felt it was so important. Mitchell wrote the Forward to the book, and had some input in the translation. There has been question surrounding this book around how much of the writing Naoki's, and how much is David Mitchell's.

To me this is similar to the controversy around James Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces, which was originally billed as a memoir. Oprah outed Frey's sometimes less than accurate fact telling in the book. I didn't care about whether each event or person was factual or not when I read it. I thought it was a brilliantly written book which did, whether all the facts were completely accurate or not, provide an intimate look into a life lived with addiction.

Naoki's book did the same thing for me. Whether Naoki's answers pertain to every single person with autism or not, The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism gave me insight into a life lived with autism. I think this book is a gift.

Clicking on the book cover will take you to Amazon's web page for the book. Clicking on the underlined book title links will take you to Powell's page for the books. Purchasing through these links helps support the blog. (thank you!) Comments, either here on the blog page or on our facebook page - NOT The New York Times Book Review - are welcome! Thanks for stopping by!

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