BigCalfGuy Book Club Review: The Reason I Jump (Oct ’13)

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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 product page.

Thanks for making the first ever BigCalfGuy’s Book Club a success!

carlys voice


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    • Jan on November 3, 2013 at 9:45 pm
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    So I finished reading the book today (Oui, oui, a day late dollar short). Here is what I thought. Wow, what an interesting written piece of fiction, this author really tried to capture the voice of an autistic boy. Then, reminding myself that this was a Q&A and this was the voice of an actual 13yo boy, I bulked. I hemmed and hawed over was this really a boy who was articulate enough to convey these thoughts, feelings and words – or was it ghost written? I read this though the experience of someone who has worked with autistic children and of a writer and a caregiver, and some of it simply didn’t ring true to me. The one aspect I did click to was how a child might feel trapped, even as adults when we are unable to change our situation, we feel trapped and we act out, as do children with autism. But as I think Ryan and I have said before, if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve me one child with autism. Just like if you’ve met one person from Grand Isle, Maine, you’ve met ONE person from Grand Isle, Maine. Who knows how unique this boy is, or isn’t. I just had a difficult time believing it was truly from the perspective of one child, autistic or not.

    1. I agree completely. It seemed too artificial. Thanks for sharing!

    • Dawn Pray on October 30, 2013 at 9:49 pm
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    Surveymonkey or google form will work for tech survey.

    1. Thanks!

    • Dawn Pray on October 30, 2013 at 7:24 pm
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    Just bought November’s book…will read this one. Hopefully it is as thought provoking as it sounds in the review! If not, you will know not to use my recommendations 🙂

    1. Hahaha. I’m working on the technology to hold a “vote” for December’s book. Choice through democracy!

    • Beth
    • Beth on October 30, 2013 at 7:11 pm
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    I found this book to be very intriguing. Some of his points reaffimred what I already knew to be true or suspected. It brought me through many emotions as I struggled in disbelief at some of his insight. Again, like the rest of you, I had to remind myself that he was just a boy. At this age, developmentally, teens are egotistical. I had a very hard time understanding why, if given the chance, he would stay in a place where he is clearly so miserable, but I have accepted that. The story at the end broke my heart. I worry that Jake somehow feels trapped or miserable. Especially now that he has started to notice that his actions affect others. I have to remind myself that, generally, Jake is a very happy kid. He almost always has a smile for me. What I found the most fascinating was this child’s description of how of his sensory issues affect him. Being able to see sound and feel light, was amazing and actually explains a lot. I would like to learn about that futher. All in all, I enjoyed the book. I looking forward to reading more like this as we learn more about this disorder and we create other ways to help chlldren and adults wtith autism to communicate.

    1. I think you’ve inadvertantly made a great point – everyone who approached this book (and life, I suppose), does so from their own special place of bias. My family comes at this through the filter of knowing Jake, and Nancy speaks from the perspective of having read the thoughts of literally thousands of 13 yr old boys. I am more dispassionate/left-brained, and you’re more heart-felt/emotional. The information presented either jives with, or clashes with, our preconceived notions. Interesting…

    • Nancy Moscone on October 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm
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    I liked reading the book (most of the time), but I had a very difficult time finding any semblence of a 13 year old voice. I don’t know if the words of the boy were lost in translation (and I think it’s very important to realize that this is a translation)or if this boy really thinks on this level and has this command of an extraordinary vocabulary. For example, in answer to the question, “Why do you like being in he water?”, Naoki responds, “We just want to go back. To the distant, distant past. To a primeval era, in fact, before human beings even existed.” I found this passage very difficult to believe that these words or even these thoughts came from a very young teenage boy in Japan or anywhere on the planet for that matter!
    I did find the book insightful, but I had to keep reminding myself that this is one boy with autism and the perspectives shared in the book apply to that ONE boy. I think he tries to paint with a broad brush in many places by using the words “we” and “us” to indicate that he speaks for all children/teenagers/adults with autism. I just don’t think his experiences and thoughts apply that broadly. I was bothered by the self looathing, but uplifted by the many reminders that what a child with autism needs most is patience, encouragement, and love. Isn’t that the essence of what ALL humans need???

    1. Very well said. That level of metacognition seemed very far fetched to me as well. I, too, felt like every response ended with, “just the thought that we’re bothering anybody makes it nearly impossible to carry on.” Beth and my Mom both felt really impacted by their readings (they finished before me), and I kept waiting for that same feeling – it never came.

    • Christie on October 30, 2013 at 6:07 pm
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    Ryan, your review is very insightful and interesting. I read this novel as well…had to keep reminding myself this was written by a 13 year old boy. Many inconsistencies, however, I found his explanations of “filtering light, “back to water” , and why kids with autism bolt and run to be very helpful to me in understanding Jake a little better. Love the idea of a book-club. Keep up the great thought provoking and educating post. Also love the entertaining aspect.

    1. I kept going back and forth between “I don’t believe this explanation” and “I don’t WANT to believe this explanation” I’m trying to use it to gain better understanding of Jake, too. Thanks for reading. Carly’s Voice looks very interesting!

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