NYT: Voice of the Voiceless ‘The Reason I Jump,’ by Naoki Higashida

Autism is an endless mystery, largely unknowable by its nature, yet there are dozens of books by or about autistic people determined to explain the lives of those affected. The newest is “The Reason I Jump,” popular in Japan since it was published in 2007. The author, Naoki Higashida, was 13 years old at the time he wrote the memoir, and nonverbal. He wrote by spelling out words on a Japanese alphabet letter board.

The slim volume consists of short chapters beginning with questions like “Why do you speak in that peculiar way?” and “Why do you like spinning?” Describing why, exactly, he likes to jump, Higashida tells us: “The motion makes me want to change into a bird and fly off to some faraway place. But constrained by ourselves and by the people around us, all we can do is tweet-tweet, flap our wings and hop around in a cage.”

Higashida is bright and thoughtful. He maintains a blog and has written other books. His American publisher describes Higashida, who can also type on a computer and is able to read aloud what he has written, as a “motivational speaker.” As the parent of an autistic adult, I know autism has hidden depths, but they are hidden under real impairment. The author tells us that he gets lost and panics. He can’t remember rules, sit still or make sense of time. Continue reading NYT: Voice of the Voiceless ‘The Reason I Jump,’ by Naoki Higashida

Washington Post: “Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience”

Eileen Cronin was only 3 years old when she realized that, unlike her siblings, she had no legs. During her early years, her religious mother explained to her that this circumstance was God’s will — that he had chosen her “to carry the cross,” and for that reason, her condition was not hers to question. It wasn’t until her fifth-grade instructor, Sister Luke, abruptly and cruelly announced in front of her entire class that she was in fact a victim of thalidomide poisoning that Cronin understood the cause of her missing limbs.Developed in Germany, thalidomide was prescribed for expecting mothers in the late 1950s and early ’60s to combat insomnia and morning sickness. A stewardess provided the drug to Cronin’s pregnant mother to ease her queasiness during a flight to Germany. Thalidomide was later determined to be the cause of severe birth defects, including malformed or absent appendages, in thousands of newborns. These tragic results ultimately led to stricter drug testing and approval measures.

Cronin’s compelling memoir, “Mermaid,” chronicles her complex journey and acceptance of her disability, from the moment she realized that she did not have “two legs and a bunch of toes” like the rest of her large family, to her life today as a practicing clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. She shares her painful experiences and yet, in beautiful prose, delivers a tale of optimism. Continue reading Washington Post: “Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience”