The Reason I Jump

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 27, 2013

Recently I read the book The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism. This is a very unusual book, for both its content and its format. The writer, Naoki Higashida, wrote this book when he was 13. It consists of 58 questions and answers that give a picture of autism from the inside – and this time not from one of the few people with autism who are also verbally strong (often people with Asperger’s), but written by a boy who has sever communication problems. He wrote the book using an alphabet grid; a helper can then transcribe what he wants to tell us.

Naoki gives answers to questions such as “Why do you echo questions back at the asker?” or “Why do you take ages to answer questions?” or “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” – and the question that gave the book it’s title “What’s the reason you jump?”. The answers are highly interesting and revelatory of the autistic mind – at least, of one autistic mind. It takes ages to answer a question because “by the time it’s our turn to speak, the reply we wanted to make has often upped and vanished from our heads … and all the while, we’re being bombarded by yet more questions. I end up thinking, this is just hopeless. It’s as if I’m drowning in a flood of words.” [his italics]. And the reason he jumps? “When something happens that affects me emotionally, my body seizes up as if struck by lightening. … it means I am not free to move the way I want.”

The book was published in Japan in 2006, and has now been translated by K.A. Yoshida and David Mitchell, who have a son with autism. In the introduction to the translation, Mitchell calls this book ‘a revelatory godsend’, since “for the first time our son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head, through Naoki’s words”. On fora where readers post their reviews, many similar reactions can be found. And I must agree: there are insights given by Naoki Higashida that I had never considered before, but that make a lot of sense. One important insight to take home is that people with autism often have sensory oversensitivities, which can explain a lot of their behaviors that neurotypicals would classify as ‘odd’ or ‘inappropriate’. Another important insight is the role that anxieties play (in part caused by the oversensitive senses) in behavior that neurotypicals would classify as unacceptable (severe tantrums, yelling, aggression) or as very odd (the urge to collect items, or the urge to create order, e.g by lining up all toy cars).

Two remarks. First, as the saying goes, if one has met one person with autism, one has met one person with autism. The same for the insights one can gain from autobiographical accounts of people with autism. But that makes it all the more important to read a variety of autobiographical accounts. For example, the collection of autobiographical stories in Aquamarine Blue 5 – Personal Stories of College Students with Autism, or the famous autobiographical account by Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures, are both very different than the account we get in The Reason I jump. Given that at the phenomenological level autism can manifest itself in such diverse ways, the only way to gain a somewhat realistic picture of autism is by accessing multiple autobiographical accounts (in addition to second-person and more scientific sources of knowledge).

The second comment is a worry expressed by some readers (also on the fora and in discussions) – namely whether this really has been fully written by a 13 year old boy. Some are worried about the extent to which the transcribing has affected the text. I don’t really have a view on this. I didn’t read anything in this book that, to the best of my knowledge, could not have been written by a 13-year old boy with autism. It’s probably good to keep those potential influences in mind; but it doesn’t diminish the value of learning more about the first-person perspective of a child/adolescent with (rather severe) autism.

Highly recommended.



ChrisB 10.28.13 at 12:22 am

Yes, autism is immensely variable (there were about sixty thousand ways, doing the perms and combs on the One from Table One etc DSM system, to be autistic) which is why it’s best to focus on communication impairment as the primary diagnosis and not on the routes to that problem, and why it’s important to regard literacy as the primary goal. I’d recommend this article from Ashby and Kasa, but it costs $7 – so this one;


David Hobby 10.28.13 at 2:20 am

It sounds like a great book, IF Naoki Higashida actually wrote it. That “alphabet chart” sounds suspiciously like facilitated communication, which has been thoroughly discredited. I’m surprised that no one seems to have addressed the issue, since it seems like an obvious concern.

(The best description I could find was that he’d point at characters on the chart, and his helper would transcribe the results. If his pointing is sloppy, there is a lot of room for the helper to affect the text: “Oh, he couldn’t have meant that character, he must have been pointing at this one next to it”.)


finestwines 10.28.13 at 2:57 am

Actually David Mitchell does address the issue of facilitated communication, in comment #18 on this BBC story:


calling all toasters 10.28.13 at 4:03 am

David@3: I have the same trepidation as you. I really don’t know how a child who doesn’t speak could maintain control over a process like this. Mitchell’s “for the first time our son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head, through Naoki’s words” sets off all kinds of alarms for me: emotional over-investment, confirmation bias, sentimental projection of one’s thought processes onto another. Of course, Mitchell is only the translator, but the tendency to allow hope to cloud judgment is universal.

I also don’t find the insights mentioned here to be unique. Lots of people in the field have considered anxiety to be the cause of the stereotypical behavior– just as it is the cause of (and relieved by) the compulsions in OCD. For that matter, repetitive behavior or throwing a fit is common in stressed children and even in adults.

It’s almost like a thoughtful adult’s impression of autism had found its way onto the alphabet grid.


Ingrid Robeyns 10.28.13 at 8:05 am

@4: “I also don’t find the insights mentioned here to be unique” — I do agree with you on that. But I felt the kind of examples used, and the way it’s put, make it better able to explain those insights than the more detached scholarly accounts. And the adult autobiographies tend to focus on other aspects, like (mis-)recognition or how to navigate the neurotypical world.

In understanding autism, there is in my opinion a big epistemological role for first (and second-) person accounts, in addition to the scientific accounts. The scholarly explanations of autism that are aimed at the wider public are often less able to make a reader really understand what autism is at the level of daily experiences. At least, that’s what I’ve found. I am not quite sure why, but I think it’s because they are at a higher level of abstraction, and in the case of autism it’s difficult (at least for non-specialists) to translate those abstract or very general statements to the level of acts, feelings etc. And scholarly work also focusses on other questions than the autobiographical accounts.

It may well be that this is “a thoughtful adult’s impression of autism”. Some readers may therefore feel cheated. But if it’s goal is to create understanding (and, as Mitchell says, public understanding), I think it succeeds better than most (possible all) of the other books I’ve read.


Anderson 10.28.13 at 11:31 am

Since my child’s speech is about 90 % delayed echolalia, his book would read more like an anthology of quotations from books and TV.


Shatterface 10.28.13 at 3:24 pm

As someone who has been formally diagnosed with Aspergers I find first person accounts of neurotypicals (i.e. people without autism) highly suspect. I mean, if I have an ‘impaired’ theory of mind how do I know you aren’t mindless zombies and any apparent purpose I see in your writings isn’t apophenia on my part?

Well, I’ve already challenged one autistic stereotype just there by being satirical.

It’s as easy to dismiss the mental abilities of other people from my side of the spectrum as it is from yours. It’s inevitable that translation will alter Naoki Higashida’s message to some degree but translation alters Haruki Murakami’s meaning too but nobody accuses his translators of ’emotional over-investment, confirmation bias, sentimental projection of one’s thought processes onto another.’

In fact ‘projection of one’s thought processes onto another’ is pretty much what the autism advocate in Greg Egan’s Distress accuses neurotypicals of doing to each other all the time.

Anyway, I read Cloud Atlas recently and recognised autistic traits in Sonmi-451 straight away: it doesn’t surprise me at all that Mitchell has an autistic child.


Anarcissie 10.28.13 at 5:30 pm

Translators are accused constantly. ‘Traduttore, traditore.’


UserGoogol 10.29.13 at 12:57 pm

Shatterface: Even if people are philosophical zombies, “communcation” is still a process which people seem to do quite a lot, so we can make certain generalizations about this apparent phenomenon, even if projecting actual thoughts onto people turns out to be erroneous. The problem with facilitated communication is that it is a form of communication fundamentally disjoint from other forms of communication. With Haruki Murakami, he does speak English so we can ask him what he thinks of it. If his English skills aren’t sophisticated enough to pick up on flaws in the translation (or if we were talking about an author who doesn’t speak English at all) he can talk to other bilingual people to see what they thought. Any particular pathway might end up being flawed, (maybe the translator’s a scam artist, maybe Murakami’s a pathological liar) but since we have many different paths from getting from Haruki Murakami’s head to the English version of 1Q84 we have backup. The translator is not our only source of information about Haruki Murakami’s supposed cognitive states. With using facilitated communication, everything bottlenecks at one form of communication, and that form of communication is one rarely used, and for precisely that reason it’s easy for abuses to occur.


Anderson 10.29.13 at 3:16 pm

8: that one wins for concision, but I’ve always liked the bad old line that translations are like mistresses: the beautiful ones are never faithful, and the faithful ones are never beautiful.


Shelley 10.29.13 at 3:17 pm

If I’m not mistaken, Jon Stewart was so taken with this book that he could barely find words to express it: he all but commanded people to read it.


Tiny Tim 10.29.13 at 6:19 pm

I know practically nothing about autism (meaning, I know some pop media narratives about autism but don’t really know anything), but one thing I wonder is if symptoms, or perhaps expressions, of it wax and wane through life.

This is a question for a friend, meaning me, as there were times in my life when I think I experienced several mild expressions of autism, but then times in my life when I didn’t. I’d chalk it up to just being an awkward child/teenager, except I think it went away and then came back in my mid 20s for awhile.


Matt Regan 10.29.13 at 6:39 pm

There wasn’t any autism when/where I grew up (50’s/60’s Ohio)–just weird kids down the street who weren’t much fun to play with, but were always around anyway.


ChrisB 10.29.13 at 10:47 pm

The relationship of books such as this – stories from people without speech who can communicate independent independently – is that they cast doubt on what is still the consensus view, which is that people without speech are without speech basically because they are intellectually incapable of language. The alternative is the presumption of competence, which says that it is highly probable that the person has language that we for one reason or another can’t access; a presumption, too, that seems to fit better into modern theories of language. Facilitated communication was an attempt to find a way around the problem of access, and we’re hearing less about it now largely because people working in the field are getting better at getting through that stage quickly and reaching full independence.


herr doktor bimler 10.30.13 at 7:36 pm

Jon Stewart was so taken with this book that he could barely find words to express it

Perhaps he needed someone with an alphabet board to facilitate him.


William Timberman 10.30.13 at 7:42 pm

One of my favorite sources on the delights — and demonic possessions — of translation is Nabokov’s Verses and Versions. Highly recommended, but only to the committed.


Z 10.31.13 at 9:08 am

As usual, it is a delight to read one of your posts on non-neurotypical conditions. Thank you again, Ingrid, these are among the reasons I come to CT every day.


Monika Zikova 10.31.13 at 11:23 am

Exceptional book written by exceptional mind.


Ingrid Robeyns 10.31.13 at 12:31 pm

Z – thanks that’s very kind of you, but I also need to thanks (most of) the commentators since I also always learn new things from the comments when posting on autism or other related conditions.


Shatterface 10.31.13 at 8:45 pm

Facilitated communication was an attempt to find a way around the problem of access, and we’re hearing less about it now largely because people working in the field are getting better at getting through that stage quickly and reaching full independence.

Autistics are in a double bind: if someone requires facilitated communication what they say can be dismissed as confabulation on the part of the translator but if we are high-functioning enough to speak for ourselves (HFA/Aspergers) we can be dismissed as unrepresentative.

I think you only need to look at the paintings of autistic children to see that there is a creative energy there:

Those are by a three year old – why would anyone assume a 13 year old is incapable of self-expression?


Shatterface 10.31.13 at 8:54 pm

There wasn’t any autism when/where I grew up (50′s/60′s Ohio)–just weird kids down the street who weren’t much fun to play with, but were always around anyway.

Having been a weird kid I didn’t find the games other children played much fun either since most of them seemed to involve subjecting non-conformist kids to verbal abuse and/or pain.


Ingrid Robeyns 10.31.13 at 8:56 pm

Shatterface: thanks for the link (the paintings are indeed very beautiful). I share your view. I also don’t quite understand why that assumption is made, but should also say that I haven’t read any scholarly literature on facilitated communication, so am open to the possibility that there is knowledge on facilitated communication that I don’t possess.

Also, Naoki Higashida himself writes in the book that the reason why he often doesn’t respond is because it takes him too much time to deal with all the stimuli – but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t understood what is asked or doesn’t know what he wants to answer (which is, however, what is sometimes wrongly deduced). Neurotypicals simply sometimes don’t have enough patience with people with autism when they talk to them (that’s what Naoki also says, and I recognize that from my world).

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