Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Living with Autism, at 13

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Living with Autism, at 13

Article excerpt

A memoir of living with autism, by Naoki Higashida, a Japanese 13- year-old.

The Reason I Jump. The Inner Voice of a 13-Year-Old-Boy With Autism. By Naoki Higashida. Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell. Illustrated. 135 pages. Random House. $22.

Autism is an endless mystery, largely unknowable by its nature, yet there are dozens of books by or about autistic people determined to explain the lives of those affected. The newest is "The Reason I Jump," popular in Japan since it was published in 2007. The author, Naoki Higashida, was 13 when he wrote the memoir, and nonverbal. He wrote by spelling out words on an alphabet letter board.

The slim volume consists of short chapters beginning with questions like "Why do you speak in that peculiar way?" and "Why do you like spinning?" Describing why, exactly, he likes to jump, Mr. Higashida says: "The motion makes me want to change into a bird and fly off to some faraway place. But constrained by ourselves and by the people around us, all we can do is tweet-tweet, flap our wings and hop around in a cage."

He is bright and thoughtful. He maintains a blog and has written other books. His American publisher describes Mr. Higashida, who can also type on a computer and is able to read aloud what he has written, as a "motivational speaker." As the parent of an autistic adult, I know autism has hidden depths, but they are hidden under real impairment. The author tells us that he gets lost and panics. He can't remember rules, sit still or make sense of time.

The book comes to English readers through the passionate efforts of David Mitchell, the author of "Cloud Atlas" and the father of an autistic child. Mr. Mitchell and his wife, KA Yoshida, provided the translation. Mr. Mitchell believes the book is proof that the standard definition of autism is wrong, that autism's obvious restrictions of socialization and communication "are not symptoms of autism but consequences." Mr. Higashida, he has also said, is "more of a writer than I am. …

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