“The Reason I Jump” by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump

Imagine that you live in country where everyone speaks another language, one that constantly changes so that you never become fluent in it. Imagine that time is fluid, that you have a hard time distinguishing things that happened today and two weeks ago. Imagine that you can’t control your emotions – your feelings, both painful and joyful, are just as strong now as when they happened.

This is the life that Naoki Higashida lives.

He was born in 1992 in Japan and diagnosed with autism when he was 5 years old. At age 13, communicating painstakingly with an alphabet grid, Higashida answered 58 questions about his daily life. His answers are collected in “The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year Old Boy with Autism” (2007), and translated from Japanese to English in 2013 by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell.

Higashida helps us understand how hard it is for people with autism to communicate: “To make myself understood, it’s like I have to speak in an unknown foreign language, every minute of every day.” He lives intensely in the present – flashback memories replay themselves as if they had only just taken place, and when he makes a tiny mistake “it’s almost impossible for me to keep my emotions contained.” He explains, “Time is continuous, with no clear boundaries.” He reveals that routines and predictable things are comforting, like food, clothes, toys lined up, familiar commercials, numbers, and rituals. “By performing whatever action it is, we feel a bit soothed and calmed down.”

Honest and matter-of-fact, he explains that people with autism doesn’t make eye contact because “What we’re actually looking at is the other person’s voice… When we’re fully focused on working out what the heck it is you’re saying, our sense of sight sort of zones out.” He reveals that he doesn’t deliberately ignore people who are talking to him; it’s just that “Even when someone’s right here in front of me, I still don’t notice when they’re talking to me.”

Between answering questions, Higashida includes thoughtful anecdotes and parables. He also wrote a short story, “I’m Right Here,” to help people understand “how painful it is when you can’t express yourself to the people you love.”

For Higashida, the worst thing about autism is “you have no idea quite how miserable we are… We can put up with our own hardships okay, but the thought that our lives are the source of other people’s unhappiness, that’s plain unbearable.” But he also sees the positive side of autism: to him, “Every single thing has its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty.” He is fascinated and soothed by nature and being outdoors with living things. People with autism help others remember what truly matters in our selfish and often violent world.

“The Reason I Jump” showed me that people with autism have the same need to be understood, creativity, and ability to love that we all feel, even though they express it differently – or are unable to express it. I feel a new patience and understanding for people with autism; since they can’t communicate in the same way with us, we need to change the way we interact with them.

Why does Higashida jump? Jumping expresses his happiness and gives him a feeling of weightlessness. “My urge to be swallowed up by the sky is enough to make my heart quiver.” He adds, “So by jumping up and down, it’s as if I’m shaking loose the ropes that are tying up my body.” Today, Higashida is a blogger, author, and activism advocate.

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