Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism. (2017). Naoki Higashida. Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell. New York: Random House, 206 pp. $27.00. ISBN 9780812997392 (hardback), ISBN 9780812997408 (ebook).
Jean C. Fulton, Department of Academic Advising
Landmark College, Putney VT
Curious about how others think, feel, process the world? You may find this book extraordinary. If you also have an interest in autism, so much the better. But that’s not necessary in order to be moved and informed by what Naoki Higashida says. Published when he was twenty-four years old, with some sections originally written for his blog when he was eighteen to twenty-two, this book is described in its introduction as an “opportunity to slip into an autistically wired brain.” (p. xviii)
Higashida’s first book, written at thirteen and published in Japan in 2007, became available in English translation in 2013. Although The Reason I Jump was well-received, some expressed skepticism that an essentially nonverbal young man significantly impacted by autism could produce such a work. In the introduction to this second book, David Mitchell (translator of both) explains that Higashida wrote Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 by typing directly on a laptop or independently pointing at letters on an alphabet grid to produce sentences recorded by a transcriber. Mitchell emphasizes that although severe nonverbal autism looks like a cognitive impairment, it is actually a “severe sensory-processing and communicative impairment.” (p. xvi)
Not intended to represent all people with autism, this book shows how one person functions, unfolding – in Higashida’s words – “the story of my inner life to the wider world.” (p. 206) Among other things, he explains that having nothing to do in the moment can feel the same as having nothing to do for eternity. The sound of rain does not automatically alert him to what’s happening outside, and he details the multi-step process he goes through each time to search his memory for commonalities with past experience. He also reveals his distress about disturbing others.
Higashida looks back upon his school years, giving insightful advice to his younger self, and also reflects on how he has grown. He says he’s increasingly noticing the positive aspects of autism and gotten better at decision-making, which impacts self-esteem. Among other steps outside his comfort zone, he’s come to relish traveling, seeing the wider world as a source of inspiration despite the inevitable challenges that occur.
This book offers readers a catalyst for shifting perceptions, something academic advisors are called upon regularly to do. Whether one works directly with students on the autism spectrum or not, there are nuggets here likely to inspire new ways of proceeding. At times, Higashida offers recommendations and, throughout, encourages readers to consider their own motivations as helper. Underlying everything is his belief that what people think may be more important than what they do when working with neuro-atypicals, suggesting that “[i]f the world at large would take a deeper interest in how our brains work and research our uniquenesses – as opposed to focusing on our treatment and ‘cure’ – we could take pride in our neuro-atypical natures.” (p. 197)
My suggestion is to digest this book slowly. With a few exceptions, most sections are one or two pages long. Read “Wanting to Vanish” or “My Sister and I” and ponder. Read “Cool Clothes” or “Words I Want to Say” and sit with it. Don’t be surprised if you find your own thoughts and feelings mirrored in what you’re reading. It’s that kind of book.
Higashida, N. (2013) The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism. Translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell. New York: Random House.