Naoki is a 13-year-old autistic Japanese boy who has done a very remarkable thing; he wrote an eloquent and moving account of what it is like to be inside the mind of a young person with autism. Written mostly in the form of question and answer, Naoki engages the reader with vivid descriptions of how he feels when he has a panic attack, when he feels happiest, and when he feels ashamed for having disappointed someone. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers; rather, he seeks to bring better understanding to autism so that both people with autism and their caretakers can work together.
This is a book unlike any I’ve read before, both in content and in format. It’s a quick read – if I had read it without a break it probably would have taken less than an hour and a half. Naoki has a higher-functioning form of autism than many people have. He can’t hold a face-to-face conversation, but he does have the ability to type. What’s more, he’s able to understand and empathize with the emotions of the non-autistic people around him.
What struck me most was how wise he is about many things. When asked if he would like to be “normal,” his response was the following:
I’ve learned that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness. For us, you see, having autism is normal – so we can’t know for sure what your “normal” is even like. But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we’re normal or autistic.
The book was translated by Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell and his wife, who themselves have an autistic son. Mitchell got involved with the project when he and his wife, who is Japanese, were looking for more information about autism so they could better understand their son’s disability. Mitchell was on The Daily Show back in October to promote the book, and I really recommend checking out the extended interview. Apparently Jon Stewart does his own work with autism, and so it was an intelligent and enlightening conversation between the two of them.
I would recommend The Reason I Jump for anyone who has an interest in autism or other developmental disorders, whether the reader has a loved one with autism or just wants to know a bit more about it. I think it’s misunderstood in our society, often because it’s over-diagnosed, making many people skeptical that it’s a disorder at all. If you’d like a sample of it, read an excerpt on NPR.
Get on your library hold list now – it took me more than two months to get it!