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Film

The Reason I Jump

The Reason I Jump

Jerry Rothwell, director
MetFilm Sales
2020
82 minutes

It is difficult to know the mind of another person; it is harder still when that person has autism. Yet, understandably, a fervent desire of parents of autistic people is to know the minds of their children. In 2007, Naoki Higashida, an autistic 13-year-old boy in Japan, published The Reason I Jump, a description of what was in his mind and why he behaved as he did. The book was translated into English by K. A. Yoshida and David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas and other celebrated novels), who together have an autistic son. Although some therapists expressed skepticism over Higashida’s authorship of the book, it became a bestseller in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Reason I Jump, a documentary from veteran director Jerry Rothwell, is based on the book, but Higashida does not appear in the film, nor is it his story. Rather, Higashida’s words serve as a framing device for a portrait of the lives of five young people with autism and their families. The result is intimate and informative.

Voice-over readings from Higashida’s book accompany scenes of a young Asian boy moving through a series of landscapes. These scenes, artistic and experimental, provide an impressionistic view of what a person with autism might experience. They are interspersed with straightforward documentary filmmaking.

The Reason I Jump

We meet Amrit, from India, who is completely nonverbal. That Amrit has a complex interior life cannot be in doubt; she creates extraordinarily expressive drawings of people, and the film culminates in a show of her work. In the United States, Ben and Emma, friends since they were toddlers, spell out words using a board on which each letter of the alphabet is printed—as Higashida did when he wrote his book—thereby allowing them to communicate simple but profound sentiments. The family of Jestina, from Sierra Leone, faces not only the challenges of autism itself but also stigma arising from superstitious beliefs that such children are possessed. Her parents’ success in getting the government to establish a school for kids like her is inspiring. And finally, with Joss, a U.K. adolescent, we see the poignancy, worry, and commitment that accompany parenthood in the world of autism.

“I think we can change the conversation around autism by being part of the conversation,” declares Ben. The Reason I Jump, which won an Audience Award at Sundance, succeeds in pushing the conversation forward.

About the author

Department of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY 10029, USA.