It has been 14 years since Higashida Naoki’s book, The Reason I Jump was first published in Japan, and 8 since English novelist David Mitchell translated it. Naoki was 13 at the time and is autistic and unable to communicate verbally. He was able to write his book by using an alphabet board his mother created, and in the process provided a roadmap for how his mind works and how he experiences the world.
That roadmap has proven invaluable to the families of those on the spectrum, especially those who are non-verbal. This documentary by Jerry Rothwell explores how that roadmap has impacted the lives of five such people. The result is a film that will open your eyes and your heart.
Each of the five people profiled in The Reason I Jump has their own challenges, but they share some common ground. None of them can communicate freely, because none of their bodies can do exactly what their brains tell them to do. They are also inundated with stimuli, where a neurotypical person sees the whole of a thing when they first see it the subjects see all of the details individually. The neurotypical can summon their memories; each of the subjects’ memories is disconnected and appear randomly in their minds.
Another common thread of the film is that each of the subjects and their families has a lot more hope after the publication of the book. Each of them has used the roadmap the book provided (and the alphabet board communication system) to expand their ability to communicate and interact with the world, and each other. Each of the families is closer than they were before.
If the book provides a roadmap, then the film shows people following it. It has been easy in the history of mental illness to write people with autism off or to dismiss them, but The Reason I Jump provides us with a picture of complex human beings, with thoughts and feelings and emotions, and each with something to contribute. In a word, it provides hope and understanding in a world that has historically lacked it.
The Reason I Jump is streaming as part of the Victoria Film Festival for residents of British Columbia through February 14th