A straight adaptation of The Reason I Jump, by the 13-year-old non-verbal autistic boy Naoki Higashida, would never have done his groundbreaking 2007 book justice. Higashida used his writing to answer the questions that the neurotypical world might have about the autistic experience. Jerry Rothwell’s approach to bringing the book to the screen is sensitive and creative, a sometimes expressionistic, sensually eloquent riff on the source material that draws in the voices of other autistic young people and their carers, and which continues the conversation that Higashida’s work initiated.
The voices of neurodivergent people, the film explains, might not be articulated in spoken language: in India, Amrit finds her means of expression through drawing; in Arlington, Virginia, best friends Emma Budway and Ben McGann communicate through alphabet boards. Meanwhile, Rothwell uses the language of cinema – macro lens closeups, distortion, off-kilter framing and an evocative blend of sound design and score – to convey the autistic experience of the world.