The Reason I Jump

"The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-year-old Boy with Autism" — that's the subtitle of The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida (2007 in Japanese; 2013 in English). It's a moving, unique glimpse of a world full of confusion, love, symbols, lightning, disobedience, panic, and hope. Higashida spelled the book out, letter-by-letter, pointing to characters on an alphabet grid. He asks and then answers 58 questions. David Mitchell, brilliant British author, and his wife KA Yoshida translated the book; they have an autistic son. Mitchell's introduction is breathtaking in its beauty.

Some peeks into Higashida's poetic-chaotic universe:

For a long time I've been wondering why us people with autism can't talk properly. I can never say what I really want to. Instead, verbal junk that hasn't got anything to do with anything comes pouring out of my mouth. This used to get me down badly, and I couldn't help envying all those people who speak without even trying. Our feelings are the same as everyone else's, but we can't find a way to express them. We don't even have proper control over our own bodies. Both staying still and moving when we're told to are tricky—it's as if we're remote-controlling a faulty robot. ...

You never notice. Really, you have no idea quite how miserable we are. ... But I ask you, those of you who are with us all day, not to stress yourselves out because of us. When you do this, it feels as if you're denying any value at all that our lives may have—and that saps the spirit we need to soldier on. The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people. We can put up with our own hardships okay, but the thought that our lives are the source of other people's unhappiness, that's plain unbearable.

... When you see an object, it seems that you see it as an entire thing first, and only afterward do its details follow on. But for people with autism, the details jump straight out at us first of all, and then only gradually, detail by detail, does the whole image sort of float up into focus. What part of the whole image captures our eyes first depends on a number of things. When a color is vivid or a shape is eye-catching, then that's the detail that claims our attention, and then our hearts kind of drown in it, and we can't concentrate on anything else. Every single thing has its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it's a kind of blessing given to us. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we can never be completely lonely. We may look like we're not with anyone, but we're always in the company of friends.

... our fondness for nature is, I think, a little bit different from everyone else's. I'm guessing that what touches you in nature is the beauty of the trees and the flowers and things. But to us people with special needs, nature is as important as our own lives. The reason is that when we look at nature, we receive a sort of permission to be alive in this world, and our entire bodies get recharged. However often we're ignored and pushed away by other people, nature will always give us a good big hug, here inside our hearts. ...

... Whenever our obsessive behavior is bothering other people, please stop us right away, whatever way you can. The person who's suffering the most is the one who's causing all the headaches for everyone else—that is, the one with the autism. Even though it looks as if we're frolicking about and having the best time, inside we're aching and hurting because we know we don't even have control over what our own bodies are doing. ...

... We cry, we scream, we hit out and break things. But still, we don't want you to give up on us. Please, keep battling alongside us. We are the ones who are suffering the most in these scenes, and badly, badly want to free ourselves from our own chains.

... Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can't properly express, it's always a struggle just to survive. And it's this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or a meltdown.

And finally, from the Afterword:

... I hope that by reading my explanations about autism and its mysteries, you can come to understand that all the obstacles that present themselves don't come from our selfishness or from ego. If all of you can grasp this truth about us, we are handed a ray of hope. However hard an autistic life is, however sad it can be, so long as there's hope we can stick at it.

And when the light of hope shines on all this world, then our future will be connected with your future. That's what I want, above all.

^z - 2017-02-08