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From The Reason I Jump (2020), dir. Jerry Rothwell (image courtesy Kino Lorber)

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It may be impossible for neurotypical people to fully grasp how neurodivergent people process the world, and vice versa. But the new documentary The Reason I Jump tries to explore the lives of five people on the autism spectrum in ways that will help neurotypical viewers understand them. The film repeatedly emphasizes sensory details, at turns utilizing heightened sounds, a hyper-zoomed focus on specific visual cues, and even shots that try to stimulate one’s sense of touch.

The film is based on the book of the same name by Naoki Higashida, a young nonverbal autistic Japanese man, and so it also pays particular attention to nonverbal subjects, demonstrating how they can communicate with lettercards. The film’s empathy is admirable, though in some ways its techniques only underscore how much of subjective experience is ultimately inarticulable. It’s also worth noting that there’s some controversy over whether Higashida, who was only 13 when the book was published, was influenced by his mother using the discredited practice of facilitated communication during the writing process. With that in mind, one may be skeptical of the passages from the book that are used as poetic narration throughout. Still, the film has valuable insights into the experience of people whose inner complexities are too often dismissed.

The Reason I Jump opens in virtual cinemas on January 8.

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Dan Schindel

Dan Schindel is Associate Editor for Documentary at Hyperallergic. He is studying in the masters program at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart, Germany. You can find his all his links and public profiles here.