My mind is forever swaying this way and that.
Naoki Higashida is a Japanese author who, aged just 13, began narrating his experience as someone who sees the world through the lens of Autism. This body of work culminated in the publication of ‘The Reason I Jump’, an incredible memoir that probes into how Naoki’s autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives. In a world where verbal expression isn’t an accessible medium through which to communicate, ‘The Reason I Jump’ offers a remarkable insight for a neurotypical reader to glean an understanding into how to the absence of speech does not correlate to an absence of thought.
This year, Higashida’s written word has been transformed into film. Produced by Jerry Rothwell, this cinematic release distils in motion picture some of what Naoki describes in his writing: the sensory overwhelm, the hyper-intensity of details and the fluidity of memory. The camera angles present scenes in isolated detail, rather than as an entire view or full picture; a living room emerges from the blades of a buzzing electric fan or the crackling pops of oil sizzling in a pan.
All this activity, a hive of movement and sound – and yet no speech. The film features five young people with non-verbal autism from across the globe, from India to Virginia to Sierra Leone. Through each personal experience, the cinematography is alive with interpretation. Every scene change conveys to the viewer a different perspective, a different detail or angle or point of interest that they themselves might never have focused on. It’s all part of exploring thought and observation – how these unique aspects of our personality constitute a persons’ understanding of the world.
And that’s just it: understanding. In the non-verbal autistic experience, and in other neurological conditions that make someone differently-abled, understanding is present even if it doesn’t exist in the neurotypical way that many of us might recognise it as.
If someone isn’t able to exclaim or explain verbally, that shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of expression or emotion. Because by these standards, if an understanding, a thought or a musing isn’t inaudible, does that mean we cannot hear it or register it as one? Forgetting body language, facial movement and eye contact? Of course not. Through his work, Naoki Higashida provides a didactic window not only into how wide and interconnected his experience is as a neurologically diverse person is, but how narrow and limited the neuro typical understanding is.
At Heady Mix, this unsettling trope is similar to the one found when researching our debut collection, Loud Silence, stories that showcased stories and authors from the D/deaf community. Here too we found that those outside of the community made the assumption that the absence of sound was silence. These ingrained and inherent perceptions and stereotypes are too easily adopted. There is a passive acceptance, without probing a wider understanding of expression or communication, one that isn’t confined to the inflexible definitions too many adhere to.
Unlinking the typical semblance of understanding and interpretation so that it reflects a more diverse and varied experience is essential. Expression is not black and white or wrong or right – it is a vast expanse of diverse realities. And that’s a point that the filmmakers of ‘The Reason I Jump’ are keen to make too. Whilst the picture presented aims to represent one version of a non-verbal autistic experience, it is by no means universal of all those on the autistic spectrum. It’s a pocket, a snippet – an example. Sadly, this is an explanation many are compelled to include; a caveat that really shouldn’t be necessary.
Imagine for instance that ablelism was reflected entirely through one lens. That everyone who identified or was diagnosed as being able were assumed to have the same means of communication and expression. It feels so abstract and removed, and yet other demographics and conditions that are just as varied are not afforded the same diverse spectrum of understanding.
This is all part of what Naoki Higashida hoped to distil within the pages of his book. To offer a glimpse into a mind which although functions differently, arrives at the same human philological processes: thought, interpretation and perception. Interweaving one person’s neurodivergent experience with a broader call to expand our own imagination of human cognition is a powerful movement. And it’s one that highlights an irony really, that society so readily dismisses absent speech for absent thought, and in doing so, mutes its ability to see the world in all its colours.
If you haven’t already, subscribe to Heady Mix now and receive our latest collection Dazzling Colours of Calm – a collection dedicated to stories about or by those with autism.