Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

This is one of two Christmas books I received (thanks Amanda and Katie) and it sounded interesting when David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Number 9 Dream) described it on (I think) the Daily Show.  The author was 13 at the time he wrote this with the help of his mother and he is autistic.  Mr. Mitchell also has an autistic child and his Japanese-born wife translated the book into English to help their family better understand their own child.  Ultimately they had that translation published in English for broader distribution of that understanding.

The book is a series of mostly single page explanations for why Mr. Higashida (he is now an adult with a number of published books) does the things he does, such as not answering questions right away, not following directions, spinning for long periods of time, etc.  I believe they would help some folks understand why someone with his degree of autism exhibits those behaviors and possibly be better able to positively interact with their autistic loved one.  A minor quibble with the book is that after he has often given some insight into the specific question e.g. why do you write letters in the air?, he will expand to say " people with autism feel this or do that."  His attainment of a fairly high level of achievement since his diagnosis at age 5 suggests he's on the high end of the autism continuum and his insights may not be as applicable to some others with the condition.  His departure at the end of the book from the format of answering questions to presenting a 20 page short story meant to illustrate what it's like to be unable to communicate with others in your family was very nicely done and makes the argument that he is an accomplished person, regardless of his condition.

I recommend the book and suggest also that if you are interested in the subject, there's a post from a couple of years back about an autistic boy who solves a mystery called "The Curious Case of a Dog in the Nighttime."  It's a wonderful story with a good mystery that leads to other mysteries and presents a brave boy fighting some pretty tough odds.  Mr. Higashida has overcome some tough odds of his own and sounds like a remarkable man.

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