The reason I jump: The inner voice of a thirteen-year-old boy with autism by Naoki Higashida

The concept of this book The Reason I Jump: The inner voice of a thirteen-year-old boy with autism by Naoki Higashida is based on a fascinating idea. A 13-year-old boy with autism answers questions about his inner life that the outer world wants to know to understand autism better. Additionally, some short stories are in the book as well as a long-read at the end about going to heaven and keeping or losing one’s identity. The questions include whether he wants to be “normal” or why he is echoing questions he is supposed to answer, but also why he is jumping up and down from time to time. His answers resemble what I would deem very close to an autistic child’s parents’ dream. The book was first published in Japanese in 2007, and translated into English in 2013.


The first question, after an introduction from one of the translators, namely David Mitchell (see comments below), and a preface, apparently was how the autistic boy “wrote” this book. In his answer, he explains that he is using an alphabet grid that his mother developed. This grid includes the most common Japanese signs, numbers and other short commands like yes / no. Naoki answers by pointing to the signs (i.e., letters) that add up to words that become sentences and finally complete answers that are then interpreted by a helper, that is, his mother. Basically, the alphabet grid works like a keyboard or keypad. Reportedly, Naoki can type, but feels more comfortable using the grid and his mother helps to arrive at sentences and complete answers.


It is captivating to read about what is going on in Naoki’s mind when he is flickering with his hands in front of his eyes or when he jumps. There are, however, two aspects that I felt uncomfortable with while I was reading the book: The first one was the extent to which the answers in the book genuinely resemble his responses. As I mentioned earlier, when I had a child with autism I would really wish for the answers Naoki provides here. To be clear, I do not want to accuse the mother or whomever of any conscious fraud. But maybe she had wished for certain answers, which could in turn have guided Naoki’s responses to some degree. Another aspect may also have contributed to the “over-beauty” of the responses in the English version of the book. One of the translators is David Mitchell. He is famous for his novels, especially Cloud Atlas. David Mitchell also has a child with autism. In an interview at The Daily Show, he told the host of the show how much the book had helped him and his wife to better understand their own child. It was not completely clear whether he was entirely neutral to the topic while he translated the book from Japanese.


The other aspect that made me feel uncomfortable with the book could also, at least partly, come from the translation. Naoki over-generalizes many aspects to all children with autism. It remains unresolved how he could have such insight into all other people with autism. However, I contacted a friend who is presently at Kyoto University in Japan. She confirmed that often personal pronouns (like I or me) are missing in Japanese. It may be impolite to talk about oneself. Considering this, Naoki may not have said “we” all the time to generalize to all people with autism, but rather to avoid talking about himself due to a sense of politeness. This cannot be true when he translates what an autistic girl actually wanted to say, but did not find the right words for.


Regarding the novelty of this book and its idea: When I was briefly researching the library and online resources to identify books from others who wrote about their life with autism, I only found examples from adults. These examples include Buntschatten und Fledermäuse: Mein Leben in einer anderen Welt by Axel Brauns in German and several books by Daniel Tammet. So, I would say that the present book is indeed based on a novel idea because Naoki was only 13 when he wrote it.


All critical points aside, if this book helped some parents with autistic children so they could gain a better understanding of their children’s inner world, it is already a valuable contribution. For all other readers it may at least be a start to reflect more on their lack of knowledge regarding autism.

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