The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism is a small book written in question and answer format by Naoki Higashida, first published in 2007. Naoki is unable to speak, but he has an incredible degree of self-awareness and compassion for his own humanity and a passionate need to communicate with others. Using a Japanese language alphabet board, he was painstakingly able to transmit his thoughts about his condition as well as what it is like, as far as he knows, to be autistic. The book is introduced by and translated by David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) and his wife, KA Yoshida, who have an autistic child together. Naoki’s purpose is to help others who are not personally affected by autism to understand and feel empathy for those whose every moment is a struggle against time, emotions, and the limits of the physical body.
His descriptions of his states of being are precise, sensitive, and pricelessly valuable to those of us who seek to understand others and appreciate the value of the differences in perception and experience that other ways of being and perceiving can bring to the human experience. Today, as a young adult, Naoki is an advocate for those affected by autism, a motivational speaker, and author of several books. Please click on this link if you would like to visit his blog.
One of the passages in The Reason I Jump, which literally jumped out at me, is Question 58: “What are your thoughts on autism itself?” I quote it here: “I think that people with autism are born outside the regime of civilization. Sure, this is just my own made-up theory, but I think that, as a result of all the killings in the world and the selfish planet-wrecking that humanity has committed, a deep sense of crisis exists. Autism has somehow arisen out of this. Although people with autism look like other people physically, we are in fact very different in many ways. We are more like travelers from the distant, distant past. And if, by our being here, we could help the people of the world remember what truly matters for the Earth, that would give us a quiet pleasure.”
Naoki expresses his love of nature, of beauty, and of detail, as his condition allows him to zero in on very minute fragments of experience and to immerse himself in the moment. Doing so allows him to slow down time and to soothe the disconnections between his body, mind, and the world which causes incessant suffering that he describes as a constant struggle in his daily life.
The reason the passage above struck such a deep chord in me is twofold. For one, I personally identify with Naoki’s sentiment of being outside of “normal” contemporary human civilization. When he expresses his feeling of being a primeval being, a messenger come to peacefully remind modern humans to slow down, to appreciate what we have been given to enjoy, and to understand how we are all connected to one another and to nature, I am reminded of a novel for young adults that I started to write last year. In this story, autistic and transgender children are messengers of this sort, exactly as described by Naoki. It is uncanny.
As I read Naoki’s book, I thought back to a few works of fiction that I have read in our DCPL collection in which either the protagonists or secondary characters are autistic. I feel that the medium of fiction often allows a reader to become immersed in another person’s world and way of being in his or her environment. Below my short list of books are several links to blogs and web pages with extensive listings and reviews of books and film centered around characters affected by autism spectrum disorders.
1. Unsaid by Neil Abramson – One of the minor characters in this novel is a young boy who has a deeply intuitive connection to animals. The theme of the book is centered around the relationships between animals and humans, and the need for animals, who are not able to speak, to have human advocates.
2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – The main character of this novel is an autistic teen, Christopher Boone. The well-regulated universe of the 15 year-old becomes upset when the neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is killed, and Christopher sets out to solve the mystery.
3. The Uninvited by Liz Jensen – Dystopian speculative fiction/thriller, this novel features an anthropologist with Asperger’s named Hespeth Lock.
The Nerdy Book Club blog has a list of books with autism spectrum characters for kids and teens.
Wikipedia features a listing of fictional characters on the autism spectrum in literature, film, and television.
Goodreads has a list of autism in fiction books.
The Quixotic Autistic blog is about autism in literature.
Autism Book and Movie Reviews blog highlights reviews of films and books with autistic characters.