From the linguistic and cultural barriers of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet to the made-up dialect in his Cloud Atlas, Mitchell’s work skewers and elucidates the barriers that words create, and bridge, in human life. It’s no surprise, then, that he would be interested in how those with autism communicate, especially considering he has a son with the disorder. Mitchell and his wife, K.A. Yoshida, read The Reason I Jump in the original Japanese to gain some perspective on their child’s behavior. Finding the book “a revelatory godsend,” they decided to translate it into English.
Written by Naoki Higashida at the age of 13, The Reason I Jump serves as a primer for those who do not understand how people with autism see the world. Higashida rarely speaks and wrote the book by spelling out words on a giant poster of the Japanese alphabet. Constructed as a series of questions, interspersed with parables also written by Higashida, the book attempts to explain why autistic people behave in ways others might find annoying, confusing, or aberrant. The Reason I Jump addresses obsessive repetition, tantrums, lack of vocabulary, and many other symptoms of autism.
What separates The Reason I Jump from other books by autistic writers is the age of the author. While there are famous books by adults with autism, those works have the clarity of hindsight, since the authors “have already worked things out.” Higashida has not, which makes his responses more relevant for parents who are in the midst of trying to understand their children.
Luckily, The Reason I Jump is interesting for people who have no connection with people on the autism spectrum. Higashida portrays his issues beautifully, creating vivid examples of his feelings and his reactions. When describing how he sometimes can’t control his voice, he says that if he tries “it actually hurts, almost as if I’m strangling my own throat.” Higashida wants readers to feel his discomfort, and he manages it surprisingly well for a 13-year-old.
While never boring, the book does become repetitive at times. Read in one sitting, that repetition can be off-putting, underscoring points already made effectively. But, taken at a more leisurely pace, Higashida’s return to specific elements works well as a reminder for how much patience is needed for people with autism. In translating the book, Mitchell and Yoshida hoped to help those with autistic family members to better understand their loved one. They’ve actually gone a step further, opening up a fascinating, often misunderstood disorder to the casual reader.