September 6, 2013

Naoki Higashida, 13, Writes About What It's Like To Be An Autistic Kid

This book sounds absolutely incredible; I just ordered it in Japanese and in English. Naoki Higashida was 13 in 2005 when he wrote The Reason I Jump, his account of being a kid with autism. His symptoms are such that he can't really speak, so uses a Japanese character chart to communicate, pointing out the syllables of each word for his attendant to transcribe.

Even in primary school, this method enabled him to communicate with others, and compose poems and story books, but it was his explanations about why children with autism do what they do that were, literally, the answers that we had been waiting for. Composed by a writer still with one foot in childhood, and whose autism was at least as challenging and life-altering as our son's, The Reason I Jump was a revelatory godsend. Reading it felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head, through Naoki's words.

The book goes much further than providing information, however: It offers up proof that locked inside the helpless-seeming autistic body is a mind as curious, subtle, and complex as yours, as mine, as anyone's.

Author David Mitchell, who wrote Cloud Atlas, and his Japanese wife KA Yoshida, first got the book for insights into their own son's condition, and now they've translated it into English. It's hard to type right now because I have not finished processing Mitchell's overwhelming foreword for the book.

Stepping back a bit before hitting 'publish,' I see this brief Telegraph [UK] interview with Mitchell where he talks mostly about the experience of raising a kid with autism. And then there's Sallie Tisdale's review of The Reason I Jump for the NY Times. Tisdale, shows the tough reserve perceptive parents of autistic kids can develop, and so she wonders about the process of bringing Higashida's teenage writing into English:

Mitchell writes that reading "The Reason I Jump," he "felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head." No parent of an autistic person -- and I include myself here -- can help longing for such a chance, and looking for it wherever we can. We have to be careful about turning what we find into what we want.
I guess I'll do a comparison myself when they come in. I'm a little mellower now.

A Peek Inside My Son's Head [slate]
Buy Mitchell & Yoshida's English translation of The Reason I Jump for $10-14 from Amazon [amazon]
Buy 自閉症の僕が跳びはねる理由, ¥1,680 at Amazon JP []
Here is Naoki Higashida's profile introducing himself on the we-got-autism site Wretches & Jabberers [wretchesandjabberers]
Higashida Naoki's official blog (Japanese) []


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