Born in 1992, Naoki Higashida was diagnosed with autism at the age of five. Today, Higashida is an author and motivational speaker who lives in Japan. The Reason I Jump is an unusual, unforgetable memoir that shows us what goes on in the mind of a teenager with autism. Higashida shares his thoughts, feelings and perceptions of the world. Because it is difficult for him to communicate out loud, Higashida used an alphabet grid to compose the thoughts in this memoir.
“When I was small, I didn’t even know that I was a kid with special needs. How did I find out? By other people telling me that I was different from everyone else, and that this was a problem. True enough. It was very hard for me to act like a normal person, and even now I still can’t ‘do’ a real conversation. I have no problem reading books aloud and singing, but as soon as I try to speak with someone, my words just vanish. Sure, sometimes I manage a few words – but even these can come out the complete opposite of what I want to say! I can’t respond appropriately when I’m told to do something, and whenever I get nervous I run off from wherever I happen to be. So even a straightforward activity like shopping can be really challenging if I’m tackling it on my own.”
1. In the above excerpt, Higashida explains how difficult it is for him to “’do’ a real conversation.” Of course, having a “real conversation” in which we communicate clearly and openly is difficult for most of us – especially when we are communicating with people whom we perceive to be different from us. Imagine two characters who have one important difference. For instance, one can be old and one can be young, or one can be funny and one can be serious. Now write a dialogue between your two characters. Include some of both characters’ thoughts.
2. Higashida tells us that when he gets nervous, he runs away. What other kinds of thing do people do when you get nervous? Imagine a character in a situation that makes him or her nervous (it could be going to a new school, dealing with a bully, getting into trouble for something he or she did not do). Write a journal entry from the point of view of your character.
3. Whether or not we have autism, our lives are full of challenges. It is a challenge for Higashida to “do” a conversation, go shopping, and write his memoir. What is the greatest challenge you have faced? Higashida has shared his story with you. Write a letter to Higashida and tell him about your life and a challenge you have faced. You can even mail your letter to Higashida, care of Alfred A. Knopf/ Random House Canada, 75 Sherbourne Street, 5th floor, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 2P9