Written by the then 13 year old Naoki Higashida an Autistic young man from Japan The reason I jump is a fascinating insight into his views on how Autism has shaped his perspective of life. The book answers a series of questions put to Noaki which he answers using an alphabet grid devised by his mother.
This is not a book review but a selections of points I have taken from it to reflect on in my own practice. As David Mitchell states in the introduction “Autism is more like retina patterns than measles.” which is to say what one autistic person feels and needs will be very different to another, and therefore how we support them should be highly individualised. When we design a support plan we talk about this very clinically as the functions of the child’s actions. This is probably missing the context and oversimplifying a range of emotions, hopes, desires and memories that drives the young person.
I did not read this book looking for statements that back up what I have been trained and think from my experiences, as well as what I implement in practice. I wanted to learn. This is particularly true in terms of what is described as challenging behaviour. Indeed one of the most powerful statements in the introduction is that “Often the gap between the theory and what is unraveling on your kitchen floor is too wide to bridge.”. This is why it is so important we do everything we can to listen to our children – not just with our ears.
Naoki suggests three reasons why autistic people ask the same question over and over.
- His memory is not linear with a sequence of events or situations, it is more like pool of dots, by repeating a question it helps these dots link and have meaning.
- He enjoys playing with the sound and rhythm of certain words and phrases.
- It is a way to initiate interaction using comfortable familiar words.
My favourite line in the book is the “virtuous spiral” it is not really explained in depth but I pictured the image below. How we can get things rolling through positive interactions, listening, supporting and showing we care. Naoki talks about being “told off” a lot. He challenges us to imagine what effect this would have if you where doing something and got “told off” but couldn’t explain yourself, how often these inappropriate actions where just him being excited or carrying out an action to feel calm.
Drowning in a sea of words
Links between Autism and communication are well documented and discussed, In the book Noaki describes that he sometimes feels like he is overwhelmed by a “Tsunami” of words he knows what they are but cant find the one he wants. Naoki mentions three key ideas.
- A limited number of words are available immediately because they are used a lot others need time to be retrieved.
- The words that are easiest to use are those that made a significant impression at some point.
- Don’t assume the word that is said is the word that is meant. Sometimes words (and phrases) just pop into his head.
No he doesn’t want to be alone, he is not happier playing by himself in the corner.
- He values company very much.
- He is aware that interactions cause people stress and this has a huge impact on him.
- Communication is fraught with problems.
A number of times the subject of running comes up this serves a few different purposes. He points out that everyone when they are in a strange new place is relieved when they run into a familiar face.
- It represents the search for somewhere to feel at ease.
- He needs to feel safe and secure when things like noises strike.
- It is a joyful feeling
Control of actions.
Throughout the book Noaki talks about the feeling of not being fully in control of his body, that he may run somewhere then have no idea how he got there or why. Like he was teleported. This backs up our training that sanctions are ineffective but explains why.
- Learning to do something should not about being told off, patience is essential.
- Sometimes he just gets carried away and the rules are not ignored they just don’t link to the action.
- He may not be able to bring up the memory from the last time he did something.
It is not that change is something that isn’t wanted or liked but that the lack of change is comforting. I will end this article with this quote (you will have to read the book to find out why he likes to jump).