Books About Autism cont’d

Occasionally, texts appear that are so compelling, they are assigned to my Official Autism Library. The scientific stuff can be found in medical journals. These are stories about how people think, what they think about, and about their lives. What makes them really special is when insights are provided that assist our understanding about why affected children exhibit unusual or repetitive behaviors.

The Reason I Jump has been at the top of my list, lately, because it tackles perplexing questions about atypical actions. Written in 2005 by a 13 year-old Japanese boy with autism, this short story presents his insights regarding many such enigmatic gestures. There are several drawbacks, leading to controversies that surround the book, however.

First, is the issue of facilitated communication, the method by which challenged individuals are able to confer their ideas to the outside world. This is accomplished via another person, the facilitator. A subcommittee of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has issued detailed reports about this form of translation. There are a number of criteria that are utilized to ascertain whether the final product accurately reflects the author’s thoughts.

Another question concerns the complicated journey that the autobiography has taken from the Far East, 8 years ago, to the West, this year. The author, David Mitchell, is a fiction writer, best known for Cloud Atlas. As a child, Mr. Mitchell suffered from a severe stutter, and he has a child with autism. With his Japanese wife, Mr. Mitchell ‘discovered’ and translated the story, without apparently ever having met or spoken to the boy.

In the book, the child responds to 50 or so questions about “Why do you…?” Some are simple, “It may look as if we’re being bad out of naughtiness, but honestly, we’re not.” Other explanations, “What makes us smile from the inside is seeing something beautiful, or a memory that makes us laugh,” are even elegant. Many of the answers appear to be coming from a teenage mind, but statements such as “… and that saps the spirit we need to soldier on,” are not consistent.

Currently in his twenties, Naoki Higashida, the actual author, participates in this blog. There is much more that he could tell us now.

In autism, behaviors that appear to represent a given emotional state, such as anxiety, are often misinterpreted. For example, to call I’m-pushing-my-fist-on-my-chin when I am angry/happy/sad/confused/hungry/excited, an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is surely and sorely inaccurate. Children who begin experiencing additional muscle tone and sensation in the area around their tongue and mouth may be demonstrating improvement in their speech apraxia, rather than suffering from a psychiatric condition.

Facilitated communication, etc. notwithstanding, I am a fan of this book.

  1. It adds to my repertoire of possible reasons that patients display unusual behaviors.
  2. The accounts are not inconsistent with those of other patients, such as the teenage girl featured in this video.
  3. Many explanations make sense as I observe patients’  downstream signs and symptoms.
  4. The information makes people affected with ASD appear so much more LIKE US than we think.
  5. Ultimately, what difference does it make how such knowledge becomes disseminated?
  6. Discussions about this book raise autism awareness.

This is only my second book review, so far, but it prompts the addition of a Recommended Books Section to the website.

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