The Reason I Jump – Naoki Higashida
Along with ‘Neurotribes’, I would argue that this is the most well-known book about autism to have been published in that last 5, if not 10, years within the western world. People where I work who never pick up books on autism were reading this book and talking about it, which is a good thing, but does come with it’s problems.
There was some controversy and debate when the book was published in English, with people claiming that Facilitated Communication (a controversial means of AAC which I briefly discuss here) was used so Higashida could type, and that the words in the book were too eloquent and philosophical and abstract for a 13 year old autistic boy to be writing. I did a quick search and found nothing to back up these claims – and I didn’t find the writing in the book so be so vastly removed from something a 13 year old could write if they were so inclined. Higashida types/points to a letter board independently as far as I can tell. Some more details on this should have been included in the book really.
So I do understand things, but my way of remembering them works differently from everyone else’s. I imagine a normal person’s memory is arranged continuously, like a line. My memory, however, is more like a pool of dots. I’m always ‘picking up’ these dots – by asking my questions – so I can arrive back at the memory that the dots represent.
The book is set out in a loose question and answers style with some personal writings from Higashida intermingled. There are 58 questions in total including questions like “Why do you need cues and prompts?”, “What kind of TV programmes do you enjoy?”, and “Why do you ask the same questions over and over?” Higashida answers these questions in relation to his life, and pulls personal examples as illustrations to try and provide insight into autism.
There is always a significant potential problem with these kinds of books; and that is that readers who do not know much about autism regard the author’s words (as an autistic person) as the final word on the subject. You will see this online as well – there are some who feel that someone cannot be an expert on, and is therefore unfit to advise on, autism unless they are autistic themselves. If people then go on to take the advise of an autistic person without reading widely on the subject – then there can be a problem, take the paragraph below for example:
The message I want to get across here is: please don’t use visual things like pictures on our schedules because then the activities on the schedules, and their times and timings, get imprinted too vividly on our memories.
Higashida then goes on to say in another answer that you should always just talk to an autistic person to talk them through what you’re going to do that day. Now, this approach works best for Higashida, fair enough, but it’s not going to work for everyone. You will find plenty of other accounts of people wanting visual schedules to help them, and I have seen the benefits and reduction of stress that have come with a student’s use of a visual timetable. I would wonder how many professionals read this book and consequently tried to take away a student’s visual schedule and caused them stress as a result. This is the problem with taking any one person’s writings, regardless of if they’re autistic or not, on autism as fact – in some ways we can be just as different from other people on the spectrum as we are from people who aren’t autistic.
What the book does do is offer an insight into Higashida’s life and how he experiences autism, and it is very interesting to read. His personal writings are, in my opinion, the best parts of the book, although his answers also provide a lot of information.
I’ve learnt that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness. For us, you see, having autism is normal – so we can’t know for sure what your ‘normal’ is even like. But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we’re normal or autistic.
Is it worth reading?
Chances are you’ve probably already read it given it’s popularity, but yes. Just remember while you’re reading that the answers given cannot be generalised to all autistic people and enjoy Higashida’s fantastic and optimistic writing on his autism. It is a good read.