I read The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. Naoki has autism and wrote a straightforward question and answer style book that illuminates much of this oft-misunderstood disorder.
This book deeply held my interest and I was struck by the irony of Naoki’s ability to explain his innate autistic behaviors against a model of neurotypical ones, demonstrating understanding of both worlds. He is able to surmise the questions we may have and answers them in a simple yet elegant way, revealing a profound understanding of the spectrum of human behavior.
A theme throughout the book is that of the pain that autistic individuals face upon not being able to discern the emotions of others or have adequate control over their bodies. Naoki at one point describes his arms and legs as a “mermaid’s tail”, an extension of the body but lacking in precise control. Even the emotions and words of other people are hard to interpret, arriving in barrages of confusion. It is as though he is constantly interpreting a foreign language.
Naoki finds enjoyment and understanding in the constant and unmoving, such as symbols and numbers. Nature is also a source of warmth and acceptance and Naoki refers to the environment as a “friend” of the autistic. I found a section on light particularly moving. In my limited professional experience thus far I have seen autistic children flapping their fingers in front of their faces. Naoki writes that this motion,
“allows the light to enter our eyes in a pleasant, filtered fashion. Light that reaches us like this feels soft and gentle, like moonlight. But ‘unfiltered’ direct light sort of ‘needles’ its way into the eyeballs of people with autism in sharp straight lines, so we see too many points of light. This actually makes our eyes hurt.”
This description is striking in its clarity. How could a speech-language pathologist not use dim light when conducting therapy after reading of the pain and distraction that fluorescent light causes?
For the nonverbal autistic population, Naoki’s book also informs the use of augmentative alternative communication [AAC]. Devices should not require direct eye-gaze. Naoki explains that listening requires the use of all his senses and eyesight sort of “zones out” as he listens. When he is told to do something, Naoki realizes that he cannot simply jump into action like other people. He brain thinks about the steps he needs to take, visualizes how they will happen and then encouragement is needed to get his body moving fluidly. For an AAC device to be useful, it would therefore need to have simple, well-practiced, recognizable iconography and the training should involve cues and prompts to get the autistic client’s mind and body prepared for action.
I’m very interested in reading Naoki’s other work. He is now an advocate, motivational speaker and author of several books. Some questions I would like to ask him are: What specific parts of your autism has changed as you’ve gotten older? What therapies and techniques have been most beneficial in conquering some of the fears and difficulties of autism that you speak of? Do you think that intervening in a young autistic child’s life is beneficial and if yes, in what ways?
A commonly-held fallacy is that people with autism are self-absorbed and uninterested in others. I admit that this thought crossed my mind before I was able to better understand the population. Naoki’s book explains the behaviors that have lead to this this erroneous belief and allows us to rearrange the way we see, think and deal with autism, providing us and autistic individuals with a greater opportunity to experience fulfillment and connection. Even the very act of writing this book shows Naoki’s desire to be understood and accepted. I wish we all had the courage to write this cleanly and unabashedly about the way our minds work and how we best interact with those around us.