"A mind as curious, subtle, and complex as yours, as mine, as anyone’s."
September 8, 2013 7:47 PM   Subscribe

The book that helped me understand my son. Author David Mitchell's introduction to The Reason I Jump, a newly-translated memoir by thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida on what it's like to have autism.
posted by Rory Marinich (13 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Another reason to love David Mitchell.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:00 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

He really is a wonderful guy.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:00 PM on September 8, 2013

Naoki Higashida also appears in the film Wretches & Jabberers. I like both his book and what he has to say in that film.
posted by awesomelyglorious at 8:21 PM on September 8, 2013

I had to pause a few times when reading this piece to regain my composure. Mitchell's highly empathetic, startlingly accurate description of the challenges of living with autism hit way too close to home. So many of the examples he gave, from the daily battles with sensory overload to other people confusing an inability to recognize traditional social cues with shyness or "being a loner", bears such a strong resemblance to my own son's experience as to almost make me forget this piece was not about him, specifically.

Thanks for bringing this book to my attention with this post. Will definitely be purchasing a copy.
posted by The Gooch at 10:19 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This looks good, but the worry about these kinds of memoirs is that they might not be very representative of what it's like for non-communicative autistic people.

On the amazon link, Mitchell says: "While not belittling the Herculean work Naoki and his tutors and parents did when he was learning to type, I also think he got a lucky genetic/neural break: the manifestation of Naoki's autism just happens to be of a type that (a) permitted a cogent communicator to develop behind his initial speechlessness, and (b) then did not entomb this communicator by preventing him from writing. This combination appears to be rare."

We don't have to be hardcore language = thought believers to recognize that language opens you up to all kinds of social norms for meaning making, including norms about how one thought leads to the next (e.g. telling a story).

Meanwhile the most controversial claim is the denial that autistic people can't empathise. This is supposed to be a core diagnostic feature.
posted by leibniz at 2:13 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile the most controversial claim is the denial that autistic people can't empathise. This is supposed to be a core diagnostic feature.

I'm pretty sure the idea that people with autism lack empathy is one of those pernicious stereotypes, when difficulty reading others and difficulty responding to social cues can add up to, I don't know, an apparent lack of empathy, which is distinct from actually lacking it. (There was, in fact, an FPP a while back about understanding autism as a surfeit of empathy.)
posted by hoyland at 3:51 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

The diagnosis is for lack of "cognitive empathy," the ability to, er, diagnose the emotional state of another. This is indeed a lot more difficult when you're trying to decide which forehead muscles count as eyebrow manipulators.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:10 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm inherently skeptical of these inside looks at autism. They all require a ouija board, essentially. I just don't believe that there is a rich, poetic mind inside every autistic person. My nephew is autism spectrum (PDDNOS, if that diagnosis still exists). He is functional enough to go to school, but has substantial social, language, and communication impairments. He's a teenager but his language skills (and emotionality) are like that of a young child. He is apparently decent at math - though not exceptional, and I have played games with him, so I know he has intelligence. What he does not have is a rich verbal interior monologue that is trapped inside his autistic body.

What these sorts of accounts posit is that the language impairments do not run to the core; in other words, that there is a verbal mind inside every autistic person that lacks the channel to make it to the real world. This seems like wishful thinking. In my limited experience, it is clear that the language deficits are profound. What my nephew lacks is fundamental verbal ability, not a magic keyboard.
posted by SugarFreeGum at 6:04 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I spent some time around an autistic spectrum child, the younger brother of a woman I dated. From going to his school to pick him up and waiting around, I learned that the "spectrum" term is apt, since there was quite a wide diversity of behaviors among the children there. All I knew, really, were the stereotypes of non-verbal, withdrawn kids, but that by no means characterized all of them.

I agree that it's dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions from this book. But, consider its purpose. It's a memoir that was written in hopes of increasing understanding and empathy, not an effort at a scientific study.
posted by thelonius at 6:40 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wait, wait, wait... This isn't, like, funny little QI David Mitchell, right?
posted by Mooseli at 7:34 AM on September 9, 2013

Wait, wait, wait... This isn't, like, funny little QI David Mitchell, right?

They are legion.

But no. Comedian. Author.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:41 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

They all require a ouija board, essentially.

I was also kind of skeptical. I can't help but think of "facilitated communication" with people in persistent vegetative states that turned out to be a sham. What made me think it's almost definitely real is that apparently he can also type and just sometimes prefers not to.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:32 PM on September 9, 2013

The recent attempted murder-suicide of an autistic girl [whose mother had a blog that talked about her child frequently and was relatively well known in the autism community], Issy Stapleton.

Think of how assuming a person is incompetent or does not understand you can start to feel the autistic person does not care or understand you trying to kill your child would make it easier in the minds of some panicked parents. The right way to start and to keep trying is: "presume competence". "The message of presumption of competence is of encouragement and acceptance. The presumption of incompetence sends a negative message, a message that says no matter how much one tries, success is out of reach.

For disabled people, especially the ones who need more support, who can’t communicate through speech or who have other communication difficulties, this negative message is an added hurdle, yet another obstacle towards acceptance, inclusion and respect." https://ollibean.com/2012/04/19/presuming-competence/

Listen to what a non-speaking, unable to feed or dress herself etc. has to say: listen !
posted by RuvaBlue at 3:25 AM on September 10, 2013

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