The Reason I Jump

Naoki Higashida

Illustration by Guillaume Gilbert

When you look at something, what do you see first?

So how do people with autism see the world, exactly? Us, and only us, can ever know the answer to that one! Sometimes I actually pity you for not being able to see the beauty of the world in the same way we do. Really, our vision of the world can be incredible, just incredible...You might reply, "But the eyes we all use to look at things work the same way, right?" Fair enough, you may be looking at the exact same things as us, but how we perceive them appears to be different. When you see an object, it seems that you see it as an entire thing first, and only afterwards do its details follow on. But for autistic people, the details jump straight out at us first of all, and then only gradually, detail by detail, does the whole image sort of float up into focus. What part of the whole image captures our eyes first depends on a number of things. When a colour is vivid or a shape is eye-catching, then that's the detail that claims our attention, and then my heart kind of drowns in it, and we can't concentrate on anything else. Every single thing has its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it's a kind of blessing given to us. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we can never be completely lonely. We may look like we're not with anyone, but we're always in the company of friends.

Why do you make a huge fuss over tiny mistakes?

When I see I've made a mistake, my mind shuts down. I cry, I scream, I make a huge fuss, and I just can't think straight about anything anymore. However tiny the mistake, for me it's a massive deal, like Heaven and Earth have been turned upside down. For example, when I pour water into a glass, I can't stand it even if I spill a drop. It must be hard for you to understand why this could make me so unhappy. And even to me, I know really that it's not such a big deal. But it's almost impossible for me to keep my emotions contained. Once I've made a mistake, the fact of it starts rushing towards me like a tsunami. And then, like trees or houses being destroyed by the tsunami, I get destroyed by the shock. I get swallowed up in the moment, and can't tell the right response from the wrong response. All I know is that I have to get out of the situation as soon as I can, so I don't drown. To get away, I'll do anything. Crying, screaming and throwing things, hitting out even...

Finally, finally, I'll calm down and come back to myself. Then I see no sign of the tsunami attack – only the wreckage I've made. And when I see that, I hate myself. I just hate myself.

Why don't you do what you're told to straight away?

There are times when I can't do what I want to, or what I have to. It doesn't mean I don't want to do it. I just can't get it all together, somehow. Even performing one straightforward task, I can't get started as smoothly as you can. Here's how I have to go about things:

1. I think about what I'm going to do.
2. I visualize how I'm going to do it.
3. I encourage myself to get going.

How smoothly I can do the job depends on how smoothly this process goes.

There are times when I can't act, even though I really, badly want to. This is when my body is beyond my control. I don't mean I'm ill or anything. It's like my whole body, except for my soul, feels like it belongs to somebody else and I have zero control over it. I don't think you could ever imagine what an agonizing sensation this is. You can't always tell just by looking at people with autism, but we never really feel that our bodies are our own. They're always acting up and going outside our control. Stuck inside them, we're struggling so hard to make them do what we tell them.

What's the worst thing about being autistic?

You never notice. Really, you have no idea quite how miserable we are. The people who are looking after us may say, "Minding these kids is really hard work, you know!" but for us—who are always causing the problems and are useless at pretty much everything we try to do—you can't begin to imagine how miserable and sad we get. Whenever we've done something wrong, we get told off or laughed at, without even being able to apologize, and we end up hating ourselves and despairing about our own lives, again and again and again. It's impossible not to wonder why we were born into this world as human beings at all.

But I ask you, who are with us all day, not to stress yourselves out because of us. When you do this, it feels like you're denying any value at all that our lives may have—and that saps the spirit we need to soldier on. The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people. We can put up with our own hardships okay, but the thought that our lives are the source of other people's unhappiness, that's plain unbearable.

translated from the Japanese by David Mitchell and K.A. Yoshida

Click here for more information about the book.

Click here to read the Asymptote interview with David Mitchell, also in the July 2013 issue, conducted by Lee Yew Leong, Dolan Morgan and Florian Duijsens.

Used by permission of Sceptre. The Reason I Jump will be out in bookstores in July 2013.