There he goes again. Jumping up and down in rapid succession, shaking his hands as he bounces in delight.
C does that each time he gets excited. Like watching his favourite TV cartoon series Paw Patrol, especially when his favourite ‘Paw Patroller” Rubble swings into action. It’s like my son’s senses are being dialled up to a thousand and he simply cannot contain his joy and excitement another second.
I’ll admit. I understand, and I also don’t understand.
Those moments when I do, I smile at him and have a good laugh right alongside him.
Those moments I don’t, I’ll chastise him to sit down properly and watch his show like regular people, calmly seated and at rest.
Did you catch that? That utterly snobbish assertion I just made at the end of that last paragraph? As though there’s a “fixed way” in life “regular people” display joy and excitement.
What’s that about you ask?
The Reason They Jump
Three nights ago, my wife and I watched a 2020 documentary film that was named after, and adapted from, a book published back in 2007. Called “The Reason I Jump“, the book was written by a then 13-year-old autistic boy from Japan, Naoki Higashida, and translated by David Mitchell who wrote the Booker Prize-shortlisted novel Cloud Atlas (2004). The book was later made into a 2012 film of the same name, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
(Incidentally, Mitchell has a son on the ASD spectrum)
The 82 min documentary, directed by Jerry Rothwell, was an ambitious undertaking in the way it tried to honour the book’s intent — to reproduce the sensory-laden world of non-verbal autistics in particular. Nearly all autistics will display greater sensitivity in one or more of the senses (sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste) compared to others. More so when it comes to non-verbal autistics.
So, along with other audiences in the theater that night, my wife and I were drawn into a kaleidoscopic world by Rothwell. He made full use of all available light and sound technologies to bring us into the heightened world of autistics.
A world where the slightest of sounds — the whirring of a ceiling fan or the gentlest pitter-pattering of raindrops; the subtle shifts of light, such as straws of sunlight filtering through a plastic bottle — assaults our senses the way fireworks on the Fourth of July would. A cornucopia of cacophonic explosions that never seem to let up.
This sensory overload is what ‘attacks’ autistics featured in the film, and no doubt a daily reality for many on the ASD spectrum, including C. The film introduces us to five non-verbal autistics from different parts of the globe and what the world’s like from their perspectives. There’s Joss from England (whose parents co-produced this masterpiece documentary), Amrit from India, Ben and Emma from Arlington, Virginia, as well as Jestina from Sierra Leone.
Overlaying the stories of each of them were parts of Higashida’s narrative in the form of well-scripted voiceovers (the author had declined to appear in the film) that helped move the audience from Amrit’s story, to Joss’, to Ben and Emma’s, and finally to Jestina’s.
Getting it and not getting it
Watching it took me back a year before when I first read Higashida’s book. Up until then, the only other book I had ever read that was written from a first-person point-of-view of autism was Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
I recalled the raw appeal in Higashida’s call for readers to understand and accept that what to us appear often odd and inexplicable behaviours like jumping, stimming, gesticulating and screaming, are just ways many on the spectrum react to the sensorial onslaughts they’re subjected to every moment of their lives. This is especially so for those on the more severe end of the spectrum.
Each time C jumps, it’s his way of unleashing the sudden flood of feelings that consume him. If left pent up and unreleased, these feelings would overwhelm and drive him bonkers. It’s why the autistics in the film behave in ways that shock and scare people around them; people who don’t understand autism. People who fear the unknown and end up either shunning, condemning, cursing or demonising the behaviours they see.
People like even their caregivers.
People like me.
Or who I used to be, before C came and changed my world forever.
Through C, I’ve learned there are worlds around me people carry that I know nothing about. Through C, I’ve learned that just because these worlds are different, these people are different, it doesn’t mean they are any less than I am, or that they are to be feared, avoided or disregarded like some bad childhood memory.
But sad to say that now, years after we suspected C’s uniqueness followed by his subsequent clinical diagnosis, I still oscillate everyday between “getting it” and not.
Or more correctly, “getting him” and not.
Which is why I want to make sure hereon that I have Higashida’s book or Rothwell’s documentary close by. So I can review and “re-feel”; so I will hopefully remember and “get” my son more times than not.
Then maybe the next time he jumps to express himself, I will jump right along with him rather than chastise him!