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‘The Reason I Jump’ aims to evoke the experience of living with autism


First published in Japan in 2007, “The Reason I Jump” is a memoir written by Naoki Higashida when he was 13-years-old. A nonverbal person with autism, Higashida made use of an alphabet grid his mother developed that allowed him to communicate the thoughts he was never able to express verbally. His words provided an impressionistic, first-person account of living with autism, as the young author attempted to explain to a neurotypical audience what it’s like to see the world through his eyes.

Later translated into English in 2013 by author David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas”) and his wife K. A. Yoshida, who themselves have a child on the autism spectrum, the book would go on to be translated into 30 different languages and become an international bestseller.

The moving film adaptation, directed by Jerry Rothwell, doesn’t attempt to directly translate Higashida’s book to the screen. Instead it expands its personal insights to relate them to the lives of five mostly nonverbal autistic young people from around the globe.

Amrit is a young woman in Noida, India who uses drawing and painting as her primary means of communication. Her vibrant illustrations of her observations from her daily life provide both an outlet and a vital way to connect with her mother.

British teenager Joss is more verbal, but has difficulty distinguishing between his present experiences and his past memories, resulting in sudden mood swings and outbursts that his parents (Jeremy Dear and Stevie Lee, also the film’s producers) struggle to understand.

In Arlington, Virginia, there’s teenages Emma Budway and Ben McGann, two inseparable best friends who are able to express themselves through letterboards that allow them to spell out sentences by pointing to a single letter at a time.

Finally, we meet Jestina in Sierra Leone, who is completely nonverbal and without an obvious way to communicate, and completely reliant on her parents, Mary and Roland. Together, they’ve fought to establish the country’s first school for children with autism, aiming to provide a support system for children and parents alike. Their efforts are critical to changing attitudes in a society where understanding of developmental disorders is influenced by the superstition that people with autism are possessed by the devil, or the product of witchcraft.

Though Higashida doesn’t appear in the film himself, Rothwell incorporates passages of his writing as narration, using it as voiceover footage of an autistic boy (Jim Fujiwara) playing and exploring various outdoor environments.

Often in their interviews, the parents of the young people we meet express their desire to be inside their children’s heads, even for a moment, to help understand their perception of the world. Like the book on which it’s based, Rothwell’s film attempts to do just that for viewers, using the language of cinema to try and portray the autistic experience on screen.

Ruben Woodin Dechamps’ kinetic camerawork captures environments from a different, off-kilter perspective; Nick Ryan’s sound design uses jumps in volume level, or an emphasizing of background noise to reflect the way in which some people with autism have a tendency to focus on minute details over the larger picture. The overall effect makes for a powerful, immersive sensory experience.

A work of intense empathy, “The Reason I Jump” is at its heart about the very human search for connection and understanding. And its most vital purpose might be in helping make that search just a little easier for a few more people.

“The Reason I Jump” is a free virtual screening for the first 100 people to redeem the watch code available at The film is a part of WXXI’s “Move to Include” and “Dialogue on Disability” programs, designed to promote inclusion and break the ingrained stereotypes of individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities (WXXI is CITY’s parent company).

“The Reason I Jump”
(NR), Directed by Jerry Rothwell
Now playing in the Virtual Little Theatre

Adam Lubitow is a freelance film critic for CITY. Feedback on this review can be directed to Rebecca Rafferty, CITY’s life editor, at [email protected].