The 13-year-old author of The Reason I Jump invites you, his reader, to imagine a daily life in which your faculty of speech is taken away. Explaining that you’re hungry, or tired, or in pain, is now as beyond your powers as a chat with a friend. I’d like to push the thought-experiment a little further. Now imagine that after you lose your ability to communicate, the editor-in-residence who orders your thoughts walks out without notice. The chances are that you never knew this mind-editor existed, but now that he or she has gone, you realize too late how the editor allowed your mind to function for all these years. A dam-burst of ideas, memories, impulses, and thoughts is cascading over you, unstoppably. Your editor controlled this flow, diverting the vast majority away, and recommending just a tiny number for your conscious consideration. But now you’re on your own.
Now your mind is a room where 20 radios, all tuned to different stations, are blaring out voices and music. The radios have no off-switches or volume controls, the room you’re in has no door or window, and relief will come only when you’re too exhausted to stay awake. To make matters worse, another hitherto unrecognized editor has just quit without notice—your editor of the senses. Suddenly, sensory input from your environment is flooding in, too, unfiltered in quality and overwhelming in quantity. Colors and patterns swim and clamor for your attention. The fabric softener in your sweater smells as strong as air freshener fired up your nostrils. Your comfy jeans are now as scratchy as steel wool. Your vestibular and proprioceptive senses are also out of kilter, so the floor keeps tilting like a ferry in heavy seas, and you’re no longer sure where your hands and feet are in relation to the rest of you. You can feel the plates of your skull, plus your facial muscles and your jaw; your head feels trapped inside a motorcycle helmet three sizes too small which may or may not explain why the air conditioner is as deafening as an electric drill, but your father—who’s right here in front of you—sounds as if he’s speaking to you from a cellphone, on a train going through lots of short tunnels, in fluent Cantonese. You are no longer able to comprehend your mother tongue, or any tongue: From now on, all languages will be foreign languages. Even your sense of time has gone, rendering you unable to distinguish between a minute and an hour, as if you’ve been entombed in an Emily Dickinson poem about eternity, or locked into a time-bending sci-fi film. Poems and films, however, come to an end, whereas this is your new ongoing reality. Autism is a lifelong condition. But even the word autism makes no more sense to you now than the word 自閉症 or αυτισµός or .