About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, March 7, 2011

#20: With the Light, Vol. 1

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, Vol. 1, by Keiko Tobe (New York: Yen Press, 2007).

"Born during the sunrise -- an auspicious beginning -- the Azumas' newborn son is named Hikaru, which means 'light.' But during one play date, his mother notices that her son is slightly different from the other children. In this alternately heartwarming and bittersweet tale, a young mother tries to cope with both the overwhelming discovery of her child's autism and the trials of raising him while keeping her family together. This is a story that resonates not only for those whose families have been affected by autism, but also for all past, present, and future parents."

Opening Line:

My Take:
Usually, we in the House of Hazel follow a flexible but predictable division of labor ... or at least, of recreation. And typically, Filbert (formerly dba Mr. Hazel) and Sprig have the graphic novels covered. I've got my own genres to read up on; manga, in a word, is NotMyJob.

And then things happen. Like, ferinstance, a family trip to the library in the middle of this weekend's snowstorm (yeah, we really do know how to live it up). Having already maxed out my 20-book quota, I decided while waiting for Sprig to finish her own wanderings to sneak up on Filbert in the (ahem) comic book section. Real mature, I know. Well, these books caught my eye. At first I was sure they were mis-shelved; Raising an Autistic Child certainly didn't belong in the manga section. Shows what I and my linear, 20th-century brain know. Turns out With the Light is a sweet, touching, and surprisingly compelling portrait of autism from a mother's view. The books are set in Tokyo and some of the details definitely reflect Japanese culture, but I was amazed at how universal most of the story line and characters were.

Volume 1 opens with Hikaru's birth, and follows his growth and family up through his year in third grade. While I've certainly crossed paths with autistic kids before, With the Light makes their own and especially their parents' experiences seem realer and easier to understand in some ways. We see Sachiko and Masato's marriage strained almost to the breaking point during Hikaru's infancy. Before Sachiko receives and then comes to accept Hikaru's diagnosis, friends and family blame her for his odd behavior, convinced he's slow or naughty because she lets him watch TV or doesn't make all his food from scratch. (Like I said, some aspects of competitive parenting are universal.) Masato, torn between wanting to provide for his family and resenting the long hours required to stay on the fast track for promotion, seems to need more time and energy than he has just to get ahead at work, let alone provide Sachiko with the help and respite she so desperately needs.

Ultimately, they emerge from their struggles as better parents and partners alike, but many more struggles lie ahead. While the classes and helpful staff at the local welfare facility help the Azumas cope with and care for Hikaru, they eventually realize he needs more ... specifically, he needs to learn to interact with other children. After pounding the pavement, they select a day care facility, and Sachiko is able to return to work as an accountant. Time passes, and the family embarks on a similar quest to find the right elementary school -- ultimately landing Hikaru in the special ed classroom of a truly inspired young teacher, Aoki-sensei. Despite regular hiccups, including resentment and misunderstanding on the part of several classmates and their parents, he thrives there ... even as Sachiko becomes pregnant again, and works valiantly to juggle her job, her son's needs, and her changing body. This volume ends shortly after she gives birth to a daughter, Kanon ... during a typhoon, while Masato is out of town, and with some unexpected assistance from the Filipina nightclub girls in the apartment downstairs.

Highly recommended, both to fans of manga and to anyone interested in learning or helping others learn more about autism and its impact on families.

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