I used to be a great fan on Radio 4’s Book of the Week, broadcast every night at half past midnight but these days, I tend eschew post midnight listening for the somewhat earlier Book at Bedtime at 10.45. So it was by pure chance that three times this week I have caught the truly fascinating late-night reading of Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump.
Naoki Higashida is severely autistic, so severely autistic that he has very little speech. However, thanks to a sort of alphabet pointer, he has learnt to write and has written a book about being autistic which has been translated by David Mitchell and his Japanese wife, KA Yoshida, whose son is also autistic.
This is not the first book by an autistic person about being autistic. Back in 2003 we published an exerpt from Luke Jackson’s ‘Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome – A user guide to adolescence’ – a real eye-opener for someone who had never had any one-to-one contact with anyone on the autistic spectrum, while books by autistic authors Donna Williams and Temple Grandin have become international bestsellers – along,of course, with the hugely successful Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. None the less, read by Kaspar Hilton-Hille with interjected questions from David Mitchell, The Reason I Jump is quite extraordinary.
The first extract I heard suggested that the autistic person had never been issued with the ‘normal’ person’s in-built editing system which allows them to look out on the world, focus on what is of interest and push all else into the background. So for you and I, going to cross a street means being aware of the sky, sun or rain, pavement, trees, buildings, road, cars bicycles and people around us but having all of those ‘edited’ into the background while we focus on the traffic going up and down the road we want to cross. For an autistic person, that ‘editing’ process does not work properly, if at all, so that everything in the street – the sky, sun or rain, pavement, trees, buildings, road, cars bicycles and people around them as well as the cars going up and down the road they want to cross – crowds into the forefront of their awareness, crashing together, overwhelming them so totally that they are unable to act at all.
This was such an extraordinarily vivid – and scary – image that I listened on, fascinated by the insight and uncanny eloquence of this boy who was only thirteen when the book was written. There are still three days to listen to episode 1 and more, obviously, for subsequent episodes – or you can buy the book here and read it for yourself. I thoroughly recommend it.