Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell
“Not being able to talk means not being able to share what you’re feeling and thinking. It’s like being a doll spending your whole life in isolation, without dreams and without hopes.”
Originally published in Japan in 2007, The Reason I Jump was written by a thirteen-year-old, non-verbal autistic boy who composed the slim volume by means of pointing out characters on an alphabet grid. In it, he tries to answer the usual, sometimes impertinent, questions other people might have about his condition or behaviour, such as “why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “why are your facial expressions so limited?”
Some of Higashida’s answers are very insightful, reflecting a great deal of thought and care, while others are simplistic, fanciful, or incomplete. However, including both types of response in the book shows him working through things, towards an understanding of his condition. Sometimes he has no answers at all, such as to the question about the unusual sleep patterns of autistic people, and instead merely offers a plea for empathy and patience in a neuroptypical world. Higashida’s answers are not scientific explanations about the causes of autism, but rather, answers about the lived experience of an autistic person, and the feelings and motivations, voluntary or involuntary, that seem to drive particular quirks and behaviours.
Higashida sometimes narrates as “I,” speaking for himself, and other times as “we,” speaking for people with autism more generally. He doesn’t always draw a clear distinction, and no doubt some of his generalizations are not true of all, or even most, people with autism. However, he demonstrates a great deal of empathy for other autistic people with symptoms different from his own, such as those who are very sensitive to touch, writing that “being touched by someone else means that the toucher is exercising control over the person’s body, which not even its owner can control properly. It’s as if we lose who we are. Think about it—that’s terrifying!” In his own way, he has a better understanding of consent and control than many adults.
The English translation of The Reason I Jump was made possible by the efforts of author David Mitchell and his wife, KA Yoshida, themselves the parents of an autistic child. Finding great comfort and insight in the book, they wanted to be able to share it with other parents longing for insight into the minds of their autistic children. Their translation is quite colloquial, but I must leave it to others to say whether or not this accurately reflects Higashida’s Japanese prose style.
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