Autism is a developmental disorder. Often appearing during the first three years of a person’s life, it affects the brain’s ability to develop social and communication skills. There is currently no cure for it. About 1 percent of the world population right now has autism spectrum disorder. Japanese author Naoki Higashida is only one of them.
In 2005 at the age of 13, Higashida wrote a memoir, answering frequently asked questions about some of his habits, why he does certain things, and his thoughts about having autism as well. He also showcases short stories that he’s written; not only as a way of symbolically getting inside an autistic person’s head, but also to show his talent as a writer. In 2013, KA Yoshida and David Mitchell translated the memoir into English, and is now known today as the New York Times bestseller, “The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism.”
I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t really know much about autism prior to reading this book. That’s not to say that I’ve never heard of it. It’s just that as far as it being a subject matter goes, I didn’t know too much about it. While people who either know people or work with people who have autism, even they cannot entirely claim themselves experts of the subject matter, for they’re not the ones actually living with the condition. Higashida has every right to call himself an expert in the field- and yet he makes it evident in the memoir that even he doesn’t think so.
Higashida makes it very clear that he’s a very self-aware, thoughtful person. From answering questions about echoing questions back at the one who originally asked, to how he reacts regarding various sensitivities to pain, he gives answers that- he assumes- most people with autism would agree with in applying to their situations as well. But then there are some answers he gives, such as one regarding his relationship with water, where he says he enjoys it for its supposed sentiments of a “distant watery past,” that are obviously more so his own opinions and not necessarily a shared experience with other autistic people.
His short stories, which appear throughout the memoir, are beautifully written; almost poetic in a way. They serve as almost exclusive insight into his imagination. They’re so well crafted that I’m amazed at him; not so much that he has autism and can write fiction this beautiful, but because he was only thirteen at the time and already writing fiction this beautiful (in particular the last one, “I’m Right Here”).
“The Reason I Jump” is about a boy’s recount of living with autism, but Higashida makes it clear without bluntly saying it that he should, by no means, be seen as the spokesperson for the autistic community. This memoir, above all else, showed how he goes about life and his perspectives on it.