The first ever BigCalfGuy Book Club read
The Reason I Jump:
The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism,
by Naoki Higashida.
I chose this book after seeing it promoted on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I was looking forward to experiencing the inner workings of the autistic mind. Beth was hoping I’d gain some insight and perhaps more patience with Jacob, my own son. Jake’s 11, and Naoki was 13 when he gave the answers used in the book.
The book begins with an introduction by David Mitchell. I found myself underlining right away. Some of the phrases Mr. Mitchell used really helped put words to concepts I’d always struggled with when thinking about Jacob’s thinking. “…sensory input from your environment is flooding in too, unfiltered in quality and overwhelming in quantity.” Unfiltered in quality and overwhelming in quantity. This gives perspective to the behaviors Jake displays when he’s overstimulated.
Another phrase that really hit home was “people with autism must survive in an outside world where ‘special needs’ is playground slang for ‘retarded,’ where meltdowns and panic attacks are viewed as tantrums, …’ Wow! There’s an essay or two embedded in this statement alone.
The meat of the book is a series of questions posed to young Naoki, who answers them in his own words. I can only assume that these questions were meted out over time. I say this because it seems an overwhelming load of introspection for one young teenager to handle at once, and also because his answers don’t all stick to the same story. He seems to contradict himself throughout – which I attribute to his being so young, and obviously egocentric. What thirteen year old doesn’t see himself as the center of the universe, let alone one with autism?
Some of the explanations for questions were ones I had expected, either as a result of the readings and studies I’ve already done, or as a result of watching Jacob these past eleven years. For example, “the words we want to say and the words we CAN say don’t always match that well.” I’m often astounded at the communication Jake is capable of, given his limited vocabulary. It reminds me of a stranger in a strange land, armed only with a few local phrases. Also, “people with autism react physically to feelings of happiness and sadness.” I’ve seen this in my own son.
I had a hard time with some of the more far-reaching answers involving feeling the particles of light, seeing noise, and the concept that if “we” people with autism don’t cover our ears, we’re afraid that listening too intently to the sounds neurotypicals can’t hear will somehow cause “us” to lose sense of where we are. I’m still trying to be honest with myself when deciding if I just don’t buy into these explanations, or I don’t want to. Can my son “see” sound? If so, what does that do to my own reality?
I also had a very hard time with the repetitious refrain of my life sucks. Again, does this reflect a conscious reality on the part of Naoki, and if so, does it translate across the spectrum? I’m not sure Jake is fully aware of the differences between his thoughts and those of his peers. Maybe he is. If so, it’s devastating. These statements were followed up with, and I’m paraphrasing, if I had the chance to be normal, I wouldn’t take it. Being autistic is normal to us, and as long as we love ourselves, it shouldn’t matter. I feel like the rest of the book flies in the face of this. Again, through self-reflection, maybe I just don’t want to believe this fatalistic/stoic hero scenario about my son.
Other quotes that rang true for me, given my experiences:
“we feel obliged to do everything we can to protect ourselves against uncertainty, and wearing comfy clothes we like is one way of doing this.”
“exactly what the next moment has in store for us never stops being a big, big worry.”
“people with autism get quite a kick out of repetition.”
“we put up a barricade around ourselves to keep people out.”
Naoki’s plea at the end of the book says that if the reader can understand that an autistic person’s behavior isn’t their fault, or based on ego or selfishness, then there is hope. I enjoy the uptick of happiness at the end.
I didn’t get the punch in the stomach Beth got, and I’m not even sure I liked the book, but I suppose I’m better for having read it.
Please, please, please leave your reactions in the comment section below. I’ll reply to each comment.
Next month we’ll read Carly’s Voice, by Arthur and Carly Fleischmann. Click the link to be taken to the amazon.com product page.
Thanks for making the first ever BigCalfGuy’s Book Club a success!