Have you read “The Reason I Jump”, the book written by the autistic child If so, what were your thoughts about it?
My wife first brought this book to my attention last month, and shortly thereafter I saw the Daily Show interview with David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and translator of The Reason I Jump. I swiped my wife’s Kindle and read it in roughly 24 hours.
I am of two minds.
On the one hand, I found it interesting and engrossing. I did not enjoy it, exactly — the author, Naoki Higashida, talks at great lengths about what a burden he feels he is on others — But I am glad to have read it.
On the other hand, I have some concerns about the book. For instance Higashida often speaks on behalf of all people autism, as if they are of a single mind. Here is a typical excerpt (emphasis added):
Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars?
Because it’s fun! We get a real kick out of numbers, us people with autism. Numbers are fixed, unchanging things. The number 1, for example, is only ever, ever the number 1. That simplicity, that clearness, it’s so comforting to us … Invisible things like human relationships and ambiguous expressions, however, these are difficult for us people with autism to get our heads around.
It is my belief, as I’ve stated here before, that very little can be generalized about people with autism, as they are as distinct from one another as they are from their neurotypical peers. I don’t begrudge Higashida for writing in this style, but worry that readers will assume that this one child’s experiences are universal.
Indeed David Mitchell, who has a son with autism, seems to view Higashida as something of a spokesman. Here is what he wrote in an article for The Guardian:
I felt as if my own son was responding to my own queries about what it’s like to live inside an autistic mind. Why do you have meltdowns? How do you view memory, time and beauty? For the first time I had answers, not just theories.
I have no qualms about “felt as if my son was responding to my own queries”, but “I had answers” strikes me as worrisome.
Elsewhere in that article Mitchell recounts the famous (at least in special needs circles) Welcome to Holland essay, and says he heard it “via a Jewish friend’s rabbi”; in fact it is very easy to find the actual author of the piece (Emily Kingsley), and odd that Mitchell, a writer himself, wouldn’t bother to look. And according to The New York Times, “[Mitchell and Higashida] have never met in person, and Higashida had almost no involvement in the English edition.” All of this makes me leery of the book’s provenance.
So while I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading The Reason I Jump, I haven’t been quick to recommend it either.