The Reason I Jump – Naoki Higashida
Traditional understandings of autism have been predicated on the idea that autism stems from a cortical deficit, most commonly relating to language and emotion. As Oliver Sacks wrote in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: “Neurology’s favourite word is ‘deficit’.”
But the intense world theory takes the opposite view: autism is not a deficit of feeling, but a superabundance of it, so much so as to be overwhelming. Instead of feeling no emotion, autistic people feel so much emotion that they shut themselves down in order to protect themselves from it. They are so attuned to their surroundings and the emotions of others that they are intensely affected by them. This overwhelming of the senses affects every aspect of their lives, from the ability to speak their minds, to the ability to conduct conversations. They require constant attention to maintain a daily routine and severe autism prevents a person from living any kind of independent existence.
The Reason I Jump is a charming book. It is written with a ferocious honesty: “I ask you, those of you who are with us all day, 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. The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people. 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.”
Framed as a sequence of fifty seven questions, The Reason I Jump is one of the most refreshing autobiographical works I have read. A window on a part of our own mental lives that is so often hidden away. Written by Higashida when only thirteen years old using a writing frame to point at each letter individually, the crisp clarity of the language is astounding.
“It’s not that we dislike holding hands, it’s just that, if we happen to spot something interesting, we can’t help but dash off and let go of the hand we were holding.” or my favourite in answer to the question, why do you ask the same questions over and over?: “I imagine that a normal person’s memory is arranged continuously, like a line. My memory, however, is more like a pool of dots. I’m always ‘picking up’ these dots – by asking my questions – so I can arrive back at the memory that the dots represent.”
The Reason I Jump is a charming view of our own behaviours from the perspective of someone living at their mercy. That autism represents the extreme condition is no barrier to it revealing the absurdity of many behaviours of the non-autistic (particularly stress induced lapses of lucidity: “when I see I’ve made a mistake, my mind shuts down. I cry, I scream, I make a huge fuss and I just can’t think straight any more”).
Reading The Reason I Jump is like reading about someone who wears the central tenets of the human psyche at the surface so that the social and linguistic elements of our beings which protect our soft psychological centres like a veneer are displaced, leaving the centre exposed, overwhelmed and seemingly vulnerable. It struck me, reading the voice of a person who could not speak, that there might be two challenges with autism. The first, to make us a little more like them: clear, honest and emotionally aware. And the second of course, to help them live their lives with clarity, honesty and an understanding that penetrates beyond the veneer.