Book review: The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
My eldest son has Asperger’s syndrome and, while not locked into wordlessness in the same way the author was when he was little, he shares some of the behaviours described in this book, most notably the one on the cover: he jumps. He also intersperses that with bouncing up and down on a large gym ball, and running up and down corridors. And, you know what, I’d never asked him why he did these things. He just did them. Naoki Higashida, though, gives reasons for why he jumps, and flaps his hand in front of his face, and many other things, and while my son probably wouldn’t give exactly the same answers (I’m going to ask him though!), the fact that there are answers, intriguing, beguiling, authentic answers, is akin to revelatory. Repeated actions, day in, day out, week after week, year after year, with the accompanying soundtrack of hisses and squeaks, can become – to me at least – teeth gratingly irritating. What Naoki makes clear, and what I should have known but had lost sight of, is that it is so much harder for my son. Patience, prudence, fortitude.
Old-fashioned words and old-fashioned virtues, but this book makes it clear that these are the key attributes needed by those caring for children with ASC (autism spectrum conditions). Naoki’s voice, individual and inquiring, comes through as a far more genuine reflection of ASC children than books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – it should be! Indeed the intense self-reflection displayed in this book brought to mind some comments of my own son, when he remarked, in intense frustration, “That’s another theory down the drain.” It turned out that, like an experimental scientist, he formed hypotheses about people’s behaviour and emotions, and then tested them out against observation, and he did this again and again and again. The strain of such constant testing needs hardly be stated.
In short, as a short, impressionistic account of what the ASC mind is like in childhood, this book is the best I have read. If you have an ASC child, or know one, you should read it. Your child’s answers will not be the same, his questions might well be different, but, ah, to know there are answers…