Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

August Books 8) With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, by Keiko Tobe

This is a Japanese graphic novel about autism, told from the point of view of young mother Sachiko Azuma, who realises quite early on that her baby, Hikaru, doesn't respond like other children do, and in due course gets the diagnosis of her son's disability. Most of the rest of the story is about her navigation of the Japanese social welfare system, and especially the education system: Hikaru is quite seriously disabled but is at least able to talk and participate in normal elementary school classes some of the time.

Every situation is different, and there was a lot here that didn't especially resonate for me. Belgium's services for people with disabilities score over Japan's, at least by this account, as they score over those in most countries. On the other hand, I can't help feeling a twinge of jealousy at the fictional Hikaru's progress; sadly, not every case of autism has that element of positive progression. (Another important difference is that we have never had to deal with my wife giving birth while being rescued from a typhoon while I was on a business trip to Sweden, but I think we can allow Tobe some dramatic licence there.)

There were several things that really resonated with me. First, Keiko Tobe has really caught the look in the eyes of the autistic child - the manga style of enlarging the pupils emphasises her success - which makes everything else much more credible. Second, it's fair to say that once parents have got the diagnosis, it is an awful shock but also a relief - at least you know your child isn't dying, at least you know it is unlikely to get any worse. Most parents plan their lives around their aspirations for their children, after all; we simply have an unusual set of data points to deal with, and after a while one just gets on with it.

Third, and most of all, the real hell of raising an autistic child is dealing with other people. There are some godawful episodes here of drive-by parenting from know-nothing outsiders (and relatives), as well as hurtful encounters with uncaring professionals of the caring professions, which I found all too familiar. At least we haven't had the equivalent of the unsympathetic family acquaintances who twice put Hikaru's life in danger through callous negligence (though here I felt that Tobe let them off too lightly by pointing to a bad marriage as being at the core of the problem; I am afraid that people in good relationships are just as capable of being assholes).

The translators have printed the English version right-to-left, which I understand is fairly standard for manga but was new to me. I got used to it after a bit; young F, whose interest in the subject is every bit as keen as mine, was fairly racing through it earlier as well.

I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who actually has an autistic child, as they will already have their own local source of expertise on the subject and may possibly wish to read about other things in the small hours of the morning; on the other hand it will certainly be useful for their friends and relatives. It is also a pretty good human story in its own right. Thanks go to jemck for introducing me to it.
Tags: bookblog 2009, comics, life: autism, writer: keiko tobe
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