Let’s start with a little explanation. I don’t think most of you know the word Aspie. It’s an abbreviation for Asperger syndrome, a neurological disorder. Currently, Aspergers is no longer considered a disorder in itself, but is part of the autistic spectrum. Currently the correct term is ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. So, yeah, I’m autistic. But there’s a difference between me and the autistic children in this documentary. They’re nonverbal. I’ve never had a nonverbal episode or learning disorder.
Because of the subject matter and my personal connection with it, this time my review consists of two parts. First, the critic in me is going to see the film. Then the aspirant in me will give his opinion and make a few remarks. Does this documentary correctly explain what autism is (non-verbal)? Are there candidates with other qualities? And how could this movie get better?
The reason why I am starting this adventure is based on a Japanese book of the same name. Naoki Higashida wrote it when he was only 13 years old. It describes how his mind and emotions work, how he experiences the world, how he has to deal with all the great information his senses provide in his brain, why he behaves in a certain way, why he jumps. And finally, how he had to learn how to put his feelings and thoughts into words. It’s like he’s giving us a map of his brain. The book became a bestseller in Japan. By now it has also been translated into English.
Unfortunately Naoki, who is now an adult, didn’t want to appear in the documentary. Director Jerry Rothwell came up with a creative solution. The narrative passages in the book are accompanied by images of a boy running through a beautiful landscape. Moreover, these fragments are mixed with the daily experiences of five non-verbal autistic people from all over the world: Sierra Leone, United Kingdom, United States and India. The reactions of the parents of these young people are also taken into account. There are times when they feel helpless. And confused. But their children also bring out the best in themselves. Each parent eventually comes to a better understanding of his or her autistic child and becomes an advocate for a better understanding of autism.
The Reason I Jumped knows how to show us what goes on in the head of a non-verbal autistic teenager. The film goes beyond the explanations of parents and researchers. Watching this documentary is an intense, compelling, almost overwhelming experience. And it’s really a genius move by director Jerry Rothwell. Because that’s how we autistic people live in the outside world: It’s very intense. Especially everything we hear and see.
People with autism are treated differently in different cultures, but they all have something in common. There are taboos around non-verbal autism that are based on misconceptions. In Sierra Leone, for example, autistic children are misunderstood as demons or witches. This also applies to the mothers of these children. Parents are even advised to abandon their children or drown in the river. I wasn’t aware of that at all and I was shocked when I saw that part of the film.
In general, The Reason I Jump gives a clear picture of non-verbal autistic adolescents and how their minds work. What are the difficulties and hardships they and their loved ones experience on a daily basis? It gives the viewer the knowledge he’s missing. It also shows that autism can be fun, despite the difficulties it entails. I’ll explain in the second part.
These are my observations. The reason I’m starting this adventure is that it’s a great job, but it’s not perfect.
Once and for all: Autism is a spectrum! On the one hand you have a documentary about non-verbal autism in adolescence. On the other hand, we see characters like Dr. Sheldon Cooper or Dr. Sean Murphy in The Good Doctor. One might think that there are only two types of autism: non-verbal with learning difficulties and genius. In fact, there is a great diversity in the 1% of the autistic population! There’s no fixed set of characteristics, we’re all different. Take me, for example. I have two university degrees and I speak seven languages. I earn my living by writing, blogging and taking pictures. However, I can be socially awkward, I have trouble with left/right, east/west and abstract notions such as philosophy. Eye contact is also a challenge. The idea of autism as a spectrum should have been much more prominent in the documentary.
Excellent display of common autistic features. Most of us on the spectrum are hypersensitive. This means that our senses are much more advanced. I can totally lose myself in the beautiful scenery, the music and even the delicious food. On the other hand, all this information that reaches us through the senses can lead to a sensory overload. What could be the cause of the failure. For example: Like a lot of people, I like to go to the bar. But if there are too many people here, I’ll have to leave. I hear everything: other people talking, sounds from the kitchen, the street, music, etc…… My brain can’t filter all this information, so I can’t concentrate on the most important thing: talking to a friend. I’m often tired and I have to go home.
The way in which an Indian teenager focuses on his art in Reason for the Leap is called hyperfocus. Most of us are interested in a limited number of topics, to the point that they are completely immersed or obsessed. For me it’s art, languages, travel and (surprise, surprise!) movies.
Last but not least: repetitive behavior/routines. In a world that can be intense and confusing, routine brings peace of mind. The way I organize my day, the way I put food on my plate…. It’s all routine. I can still take a trip. I can break my routine with a few tricks.
Just because you’re verbal doesn’t mean communication is easy. For NT (NeuroTypicals, people who are not part of the spectrum) communication is an intuitive process. For people on the spectrum, it’s cognitive. As in many other companies, I observe people and try to imitate them in conversation. In my head, that’s how it’s done. First you say A, and I say B. Then you say C, and I have to say D. Of course, if someone doesn’t follow this procedure, I get confused. I also have a tendency to take things on, so I only joke slowly. The good news is that once I get to know someone, I have less trouble connecting.
Some of us don’t want to be NT! I’m not broken. I don’t need to be repaired. It’s just that my brain is wired differently. I feel good, like an Aspie. My only problem is that you, NT, misunderstand and insult us. Moreover, hypersensitivity can be a challenge, but at the same time it brings a lot of joy. I also think we live more in the moment.
In any case, the reason for my commitment is a very important step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Understanding and accepting is the key.
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