Book Review – Why I Jump And The Experience Of Autism
What’s the reason you jump? When I’m jumping it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky. Really, my urge to be swallowed up by the sky is enough to make my heart quiver. When I’m jumping, I can feel my body parts really well, too–my bounding legs and my clapping hands–and that makes me feel so, so good.
I have recently done a brutal cull of my “to read” list, cutting it from 150 items to 30. This was one of the books that made the cut, although I could not remember where I got the recommendation from, and I am few minutes away from wrapping up the audio edition on my drive to and from the gym.
The New York Times review describes this book as a strange bird – “a book about disordered sensorineural processing by a person with disordered sensorineural processing, written one letter at a time in adolescent Japanese prose and then translated into colloquial English”. It sticks out from my usual mixed diet of self-help, existential angst narratives, obtuse ethics and beach trash – not only it is translated from Japanese, but it is also written by a 13-year old boy with autism, using a symbol keyboard to put together words.
In Japanese, the characters used for the word “autism” are “self”, “shut” and “illness”. That paints a stark image, doesn’t it?
I pull a copy of my trusty, although now-out-of-date DSM-IV off the shelf – Disorders Usually First Diagnosed In Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence is not exactly the category I spent a lot of time poking around in. I was way more interested in Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders; hence, Sexuality, Marriage and Family specialization in my undergraduate degree. [If you ever want to discuss the societal construct of sexual deviance, or ponder the motivations of sexual serial killers – I am your girl.]
Autistic disorder (official diagnosis) is marked by “abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interests”. The manual mentions many symptoms that Naoki describes himself and other children with autism engaging in – lining up objects, spinning, flapping hands, repetitively mimicking the actions or words of others. The onset of autism is prior to three years of age, and the disorder is markedly different from Asperger’s Disorder, as there is usually no lack or delay in language development in the latter.
So far, my exposure to portrayals of autism in popular culture has been limited to “I Am Sam” – a 2001 drama with Sean Penn, playing the main character with a developmental disability (perhaps, Asperger’s) – a movie I personally enjoyed, but that has been slammed by critics as overly sentimental and predictable. I am now curious to watch “Temple Grandin” – a 2010 film about Dr. Grandin, a well known author, scientist and a spokesperson for autism.
I found “The Reason I Jump” somewhat reminiscent of “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keys, a short science fiction story told through a series of journal entries by Charlie Gordon, a man with an intellectual disability, you’d be correct.
To call this book a light read would be crass. However, it IS a short read.
As someone who has written about anxiety, eating disorders and body image, I am a big fan of well written “this is what my experience of X” is like, whether X in question is alcoholism, or schizophrenia, or another experience I cannot possibly understand.
If you are curious to learn more about the experience of autism, or especially if you have a child with autism in your life, I’d recommend this book.
Watch Temple Grandin’s TED talk for another glimpse into the world of autism.
P.S. If you are aware of a must-read or must-watch resource, when it comes to autism, or other similar disorders on the spectrum, I’d love to learn more.
*Your book recommendations: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, Losing Anthony by Lisa Genova, Carly’s Voice by Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann, Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison.
Your movie recommendations: “Rain Man”, “Temple Grandin”.