Facing 2014 with resolution, resolve

New Year Fresh Start
New Year Fresh Start!

I‘m heading into the New Year with a new attitude, because, in all honesty, I need to get a grip on myself.

In many ways 2013 was the best year of my life. Unemployment was a godsend. I love being home, spending time with my wife and kids. Grocery shopping? Laundry? Picking the kids up from school, and helping with homework? Count me in!

My wife and I had time to return to animal rescue this year. We fostered a pregnant stray, and helped find excellent homes for her and all her puppies. Our current foster, a sweet Cairn terrier named Enzo, is still looking for his forever home.

I spent the year rebranding myself as an author. I promoted my books, built a few web sites, and dipped my toe in the blogging sea. I’m not earning enough (yet) to make it a full-time profession, but I’ve had a lot of fun trying.

A lot of fun … that was 2013. A little too much fun.

I let myself go in 2013. I ate like an animal, and packed on pounds. I fell off the no smoking wagon months ago, and can’t seem to find my way back on. I’m indulgent, gluttonous, living too high on the hog.

Mick Jagger once said, “It’s all right to let yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.” But it’s more difficult to get back on track when you’re older, (Mick also noted, “What a drag it is getting old.”) It’s fun and scary living a decadent lifestyle, like riding a roller coaster. But it gets old and pathetic.

If the body is a temple, then mine is a battered old shack, a handyman’s special in need of TLC. I’ve had a lot of fun in this house — it was a 24/7 party palace in 2013! — but I’ve neglected the maintenance. I need to turn it around. I need to dig deep. I need to refurbish myself. I need to get control of myself and get healthy.

Most important, I need to set a good example for my children.

All success in life stems from self-control. When you’re out of control, your world spirals out of control, too. Control your inner self, and you control the world around you. As Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho writes in Aleph: “If you conquer yourself, then you conquer the world.”

It takes discipline, but as a wise man once said, “Discipline weighs ounces, regret weighs tons.” Unhealthy lifestyle choices lead to a world of regret.

But it’s never too late to change. As author C.S. Lewis noted, “You are never too old to set another goal, or dream a new dream.”

May all your dreams come true in 2014!

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The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism (2007) by Naoki Higashida

KA Yoshida (translator) David Mitchell (translator)

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida is like a Rosetta Stone, a secret decoder ring for autism’s many mysteries.

Author Naoki Higashida is a non-verbal boy with autism living in Japan. He’s able to write using a letter board, and this book of essays was published in 2006 when Higashida was 13 years old.

While Higashida doesn’t represent everyone on the autistic spectrum, his book certainly helps explain many autistic behaviors from the inside out. Higashida answers questions on a variety of topics, like, “Why do you flap your hands?” and, “Why do you like to jump?”

Higashida’s answers show amazing insight into the autistic mind, detailing a unique system for filing memories, as well as a perpetual struggle with sensory input, and the concept of linear time.

The mental gymnastics needed to overcome autism’s obstacles are tremendous, and sometimes brilliant. But it’s exhausting being inside Higashida’s head — you can only imagine how he must feel.

A quest for consistency — for something true and unchanging — is behind many autistic behaviors, as seen in Higashida’s response to the question, “Why do you like to spin things?”

“Watching spinning things fills us with a sort of everlasting bliss — for the time we sit watching them, they rotate with perfect regularity. Whatever object we spin, this is always true. Unchanging things are comforting, and there’s something beautiful about that.”

Many of Higashida’s introspective insights are universal, and written with a poet’s hand.

“Invisible things like human relationships and ambiguous expressions … these are difficult for us people with autism to get our head around.”

Invisible things are hard for all of us to grasp. Thoughts, emotions, memories, and faith; germs, virus, and disease. Our lives are ruled by Invisibles. They get us all in the end.

Asked what causes his panic attacks and meltdowns, Higashida’s response is perceptive and poignant:

“Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. And it’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or a meltdown.”

Higashida’s apologetic tone resonates throughout this collection. He longs to connect, but he knows his strange behavior makes others uncomfortable, and it breaks his heart. It will break yours, too.

But The Reason I Jump is a double-shot of hope for parents of children with autism, especially those of us raising non-verbal / limited-speech kids. This book is proof of what we’ve known all along — our kids are thinking / feeling / loving people trapped inside uncooperative bodies. They wear their skin like an ill-fitting suit, constantly tripping on the hems, and getting caught up in the sleeves whenever they reach for something. Sensory Integration Disorder and the strange wiring of the autistic brain makes connecting with the outside world a challenge for our kids.

The Reason I Jump author Naoki Higashida
The Reason I Jump author Naoki Higashida

Higashida says the autistic mind focuses on details (flashing lights, a ladder, hoses, black tires, loud siren); while a typical mind will immediate recognize an object (a fire truck). Higashida sees a benefit in this reverse-engineered view of the world.

“Every single thing has its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it’s a kind of blessing given to us.”

Connect with a person with autism — see the world through their eyes — and you’ll be blessed, too.

Check out Naoki Higashida’s blog and other writings here: http://wretchesandjabberers.org/writing-naoki.php

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Coming Soon! My review of  another autism autobiography, Ido in Autismland by Ido Kedar