Imagine a life in which you cannot speak coherently, yet your mind is filled with a “dam-burst of ideas, memories, impulses and thoughts cascading over you, unstoppably.” Your mind is filled with noises, colors, patterns, smells and textures, but you have no sense of time or space.
This is the experience of Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old Japanese boy with autism, as described in the introduction of his memoir, “The Reason I Jump.” The memoir gives readers a peek inside the mind of an adolescent who received an autism diagnosis when he was 5 years old but for years didn’t realize he was different. “When I was small, I didn’t even know that I was a kid with special needs,” Higashida writes. “How did I find out? By other people telling me that I was different.”
Higashida writes that he has no problem reading books aloud or singing, but he can’t manage more than a few words in a conversation. He says he learned to communicate by writing but in many ways feels removed from the world because of his condition. “If autism was regarded simply as a personality type, things would be so much easier and happier for us” — referring to people on the autism spectrum — “than they are now,” the boy writes. “For sure, there are bad times when we cause a lot of hassle for other people, but what we really want is to be able to look toward a brighter future.”
Higashida tries to answer 58 questions he thinks people have about autism. Among them: Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly? Do you prefer to be on your own? Why do you flap your fingers and hands in front of your face? Why are you so picky about what you eat? Would you like to be “normal”? What’s the reason you jump?
“[By] jumping up and down, it’s as if I’m shaking loose the ropes that are tying up my body,” he explains. “When I jump, I feel lighter, and I think the reason my body is drawn skyward is that the motion makes me want to change into a bird and fly off to some faraway place.”