Ode to the minds that sway

WONDER in the night sky: Amrit Khurana, a non-speaking autistic daughter. Photograph courtesy Action in Autism.

YOU MAY HAVE your opinion about how other people lead their lives or live within the confines of their bodies, but have you ever really considered taking the proverbial ‘stepping into someone’s shoes’ all the way? Stripping its narrative of sweet or sweeping platitudes, Jerry Rothwell’s film The Reason I Jump puts you into the life of a non-verbal autistic child. And the effect is truly astonishing. It is being screened as a fundraiser for Awareness in Autism on 24 February, at Supernova Suncoast Centre.

With seven different case studies, from all over the world, the work is not about forcing autistic children to be like everyone else. It’s not along the lines of showing the world that people affected by Down Syndrome, for instance, can be ballerinas or graduates. It’s a no- holds barred approach on the unique magic and the careful poetry that comprises living the world from a different perspective.

Based on the writings of 13-year-old non-verbal autistic child Naoki Higashida, the film is candid and crisp in its articulation. Its descriptions are honed with empathy towards the spirit of words. It interviews families affected by this condition and is often deeply moving in how it reflects on a parent’s choice and a parent’s naivete when it comes to raising a child who is different and who must jump rather than speak to express himself.

Evocative of David Robbins’s brilliant book that engages with autism, Walking to Australia, this film touches on the delicate core of what it takes to be able to laugh at beauty, whether it happens in the unfurling of a petal or the splash of water on a truck’s tire. It’s a work of poetry in the best possible way.

But this film is not simply an experiential guide to what it means to be autistic. It is designed to showcase strategies and research into assisting the non-verbal to express themselves in a way that others can hold on to.

However, if you are susceptible to too many flickering lights or harsh sounds being cast in your direction, from a big screen in a dark room, the work may interfere with your world view or your peace of mind. And maybe that’s what it should do. Maybe stirring up the roots of a panic attack or a migraine, The Reason I Jump offers the mind-boggling experiential backstory to not really fitting in. It resonates with the principles behind Life in Colour, the current Netflix series in which veteran natural historian David Attenborough examines the world through the eyes of particular types of natural species. And far from comparing a non-verbal autistic child with a mantis shrimp or a tiger, this work is about the wonder of being aware of difference.

The Reason I Jump is directed by Jerry Rothwell. Based on the eponymous book by Naoki Higashida, it is performed by Jim Fujiwara as the Boy and Jordan O’Donegan as the voice of the book. Produced by Jeremy Dear, Stevie Lee and Al Morrow, it features creative input by Nainita Desai (music), Ruben Woodin Dechamps (cinematography) and David Charap (editing) and will be screened in a fundraiser which benefits Awareness in Autism at Supernova Suncoast Cinecentre, on 24 February 2022.

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