Nigel Summerley reviews an extraordinary book by a remarkable author
‘The Reason I Jump’ (Sceptre, 2013) is a beautiful little book, written in the most arduous and difficult circumstances by Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old boy with autism.
Its purpose is to tell you what it is like to be autistic – from the inside. Naoki’s words have tremendous impact, not only from their content but also from the fact that he is a great writer: enlightened, poetic and deeply moving.
He explains how autistic people see things differently, being drawn into details first and appreciating them before seeing the whole: “When a colour is vivid or a shape is eye-catching, then that’s the detail that claims our attention, and then our hearts kind of drown in it… Sometimes I actually pity you for not being able to see the beauty of the world in the same way we do. Really, our vision of the world can be incredible, just incredible… Every single thing as its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it’s a kind of blessing given to us.”
He is equally compelling when he talks about the down sides of autism: “I know I have lots of pleasant memories, but my flashbacks are always bad ones, and from out of the blue I get incredibly distressed, burst into tears or just start panicking…
“So when this happens, just let us have a good cry and then we can get back on our feet. Maybe the racket we make will get on your nerves… but please try to understand what we’re going through, and stay with us.”
And there is more on this theme: “The people who are looking after us may say, ‘Minding these kids is really hard work, you know!’ But for us – who are always causing the problems and are useless at pretty much everything we try to do – you can’t begin to imagine how miserable and sad we get.
“I ask you… not to stress yourselves out because of us. When you do this, it feels as if you’re denying any value at all that our lives may have – and that saps the spirit we need to soldier on.”
Naoki is neither normal nor abnormal – simply a remarkable human being with a beautiful voice.