“True compassion is about not bruising the other person's self-respect.” ~ Naoki Higashida
Naoki Higashida is the author of the fascinating book The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism. This is a first-person account of living with autism, written through the use of assistive technology when Naoki was thirteen.
As you might expect, there are significant insights to be gleaned from this honest, thought-provoking account. And yet, as an educator who cares deeply about inclusion and our ability to value every learner, I find myself wanting to write a warning label.
Without a doubt, this novel provides a window into the thoughts and feelings of a person with autism. Naoki openly shares his struggles and frustrations as a means to increase understanding of himself, his autism and autism in general, while he simultaneously implores the reader for support, care and acceptance. But it is so important to remember that when you have learned how one person thinks and feels, you have learned how one person thinks and feels.
I caution those who wish to understand autism, other non-verbal disabilities, or any disability in general, to not generalize the insights learned here. It might be easy to experience Naoki's words as ‘aha moments’, but we must remember that each person with autism (or any other disability) is a unique individual; and while there may be similarities, others may or may not share similar feelings and experiences with Naoki.
Additionally, I am challenged by another aspect of this novel. The book is structured as Naoki's answers to a series of fifty-eight questions. It is unclear who has written and/or posed these questions that range from “Why do you echo questions back at the asker?” to “Why do you flap your fingers and hands in front of your face?” to “Why don't you make eye contact when you're talking?” And yet, as you read through all of these questions, you may notice that each and every one is written from an ableist perspective and has what I feel is a slightly negative connotation. Each one seeks to know “why do you do things differently from the rest of us” and the questions even go so far as to ask “Would you like to be ‘normal’?” Asking such a question is presumptuous, and assumes that Naoki (or anyone with a disability) isn’t ‘normal’. Nowhere do we read, “What are your goals” or “What do you wish for in life” or even “What makes you happy?” Closest is the question, “Would you give us an example of something people with autism really enjoy?” Once again I will assert that such generalizations by one person with a disability on behalf of all who have that disability is unfair and undermines individuality.
Nevertheless, Naoki answers the following question with what I feel to be the most profound statement in the book: “Do you find childish language easier to understand?” His response, “True compassion is about not bruising the other person's self-respect.” Why wasn’t this guiding principle used to set the tone of Naoki’s novel?
Have you read The Reason I Jump? What are your thoughts?