As an autistic advocate and writer, I’ve read most autism books available in the English language. Since autism is so different in each individual, I only see snippets of my experience in most of them. My favorite reads take me inside the author’s world through their writing and give me bursts of excitement when I realize I’m not alone in my experience. I found such a book in The Reason I Jump, written by Naoki Higashida at age 13. Now 24, Naoki returns with his second memoir, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8. In it, he reflects on his early experiences with the benefit of hindsight and offers new insights from the perspective of young adulthood. My copy is filled with notes to mark passages that struck a chord in me and new ideas I want to explore.
Overall, Fall Down 7 Times earns its place among the books I recommend to anyone with questions about autism and everyone who lives or works with us.
As a child on the autism spectrum, Naoki Higashida was unable to communicate using speech. He went to a special school in his home country of Japan, and his erratic behavior — running, clapping, jumping — drew stares in public from people who assumed he was oblivious to their judgments.
But he was entirely aware. He understood that his behavior stood out and that people couldn’t make sense of it. At the age of 13, he decided to use his own method of communication to lay out the reasons behind it all. One keystroke at a time, the teen who could not speak wrote a memoir that became an international bestseller.
It’s no wonder the world took notice of Naoki.
Since he first tapped out the questions and answers that comprise The Reason I Jump, the poet, novelist, essayist, artist, and advocate has logged another ten years of life experience and wrung decades worth of insight from it. Four years after his first memoir was translated and published in English, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 offers the world another chance to learn about autism from the inside of his capable, curious, one-of-a-kind mind.
The autism community is infamously divided, but this book bridges the ideological schism. Through stories and reflections from various stages, Naoki shows how his view of autism has evolved over time. Instead of wishing for the impossible, like some sort of magic wand for autism, what comes through is a mature acceptance of his disability without denying the difficulty and frustration that comes with it. Naoki frames his autistic mannerisms as adaptations of his brain makes to a neurotypical world — not so much a matter of brilliance or fallibility but purpose and functionality.
The difficulty in making autistic experience understood begins not with communication challenges but with the first inklings that my experience is different than yours in a given moment. For me, these realizations come as a surprise, perhaps like it might feel to learn that your idea of blue is what everyone around you knows to be yellow. It takes a kind of thought sleuth to gather, sort, and store clues over a lifetime and make sense of a foreign way of thinking.
Naoki has a keen awareness of the everyday moments in which his perception or thought process is substantially different, such as his immediate awareness of pitter-patter sounds but difficulty recognizing them as rain and delayed understanding of what that means. This awareness and the clarity of Naoki’s explanations set his writing apart. He uses common-ground experience and poignant analogies to give universal meaning to unique experiences — the reasons behind his fashion choices, the difference between using scissors as a skill and as part of an art project, the difficulty of having his picture taken.
Because of its first-person perspective and novel content, the book stands to make a significant impact on those with largely professional connections to autism. Naoki will give them reason to rethink accepted ideas about the nature of autism as a disability. The relaxed, friendly voice and short topical pieces make for an ideal summer read for autism parents who work all day and for teachers and therapists who go home to kids of their own. Comparing Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 to his writings ten years ago in The Reason I Jump amplifies his growth as a thinker, advocate, and writer.
Purchase the book on Amazon.
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