I admit, I wanted to read The Reason I Jump because David Mitchell's name was attached to the book. Once I read Mitchell's very matter-of-fact introduction, however, I was concerned that the rest of the book wouldn't be able to hold my attention. This is a very personal book, an inside look at autism; truthfully, autism has not affected my life that much.
Before I get into what this book did for me, let me say that I did struggle with the voice of Higashida. Supposedly he was thirteen when he wrote this book, and at times he does come across as very juvenile; yet, for much of the book, his is the voice of experience and insight. It felt to me more as an adult trying to speak as a child than as a child—perhaps this is merely the voice of autism. Or this could be an issue of being a translation of a thirteen year old translating his own experiences with autism to non-autistic world. Regardless of the reason, the author is very intelligent and very aware, and that provides insight into the world of the autistic that few have been given a glimpse into.
So, I had no personal connection to this book. I was reading the questions and Higashida's responses as a very detached observer. But I wasn't too deep into the book when I realized that Higashida's feelings were my own. Answer after answer, I found myself nodding in agreement: I do that; I feel that way; I've thought that. How could this be? So here's my personal connection. More than ten years ago I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. My Borderline symptoms are very textbook, yet I've been called “Extremely High Functioning/Highly Self-Aware” by multiple therapists. For the most part, I've been able to understand and put words to my irrational actions, much as Higashida does for autism in The Reason I Jump. But BPD is not on the autistic spectrum. What is on the autistic spectrum however is Sensory Processing Disorder. Some experts believe that BPD is the end result of SPD when not treated—that really they are, for the most part, the same mental disorder. Through my own personal experiences, I have to agree with this connection. So if SPD is merely high-functioning autism, and if SPD and BPD are truly the same, wouldn't BPD also be on the autistic spectrum? An interesting theory at least. And if Higashida's perception is the norm for autistic, if mine is the norm for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, we are in the same boat. Well then, what is the difference between autism and BPD? While the feelings and perceptions are the same, the intensity and reactions seem to be different. Higashida's responses indicate that autistics are crippled by some of these feelings that merely are an annoyance to me; Higashida's responses show the autistic pulling in, the Borderline would be much more likely to lash out. So while it's possible the Borderline and the autistic are in the same boat, the Borderline is more likely to interpret the actions of the autistic as a precursor to abandonment and respond with irrational outward actions, possibly violence, while the autistic would pull deeper into his own world and respond with irrational inward actions. In the end, however, both would feel the same remorse and embarrassment regarding their actions.
Of course, it's only a theory. And I'm on one side of the fence with no real idea what it's like to be on the other. But I do feel there has got to be a significant thread connecting the two—that's my theory, at least.
So that's how I was able to connect with this book. Had I not had that connection, I doubt I would've enjoyed it as much. This book was written to give outsiders an insider's view of autism. If you don't know someone with autism, if you're not personally invested in it, you may not be able to connect with The Reason I Jump at all. It's always possible, however, you'll find that you're not that different from Higashida in the end. Perhaps none of us really are. Maybe, it's not so much about mental illness, but about being human.