Review: With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child 1 by Keiko Tobe

July 13, 2009 at 12:45 pm (1)

Keiko Tobe’s With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child has been on my mental to-read list for a while, and I finally tracked down a copy of the first volume from my library.* I was a bit startled by the sheer heft of the book; Yen Press isn’t the only manga publisher to release double volumes, but this volume is much more substantial than any others I’ve come across.

There’s absolutely no false advertising here: With the Light begins with the birth of a baby boy who delights his young mother, Sachiko. Sachiko is thrilled to be a mother, and looking forward to building a family with her husband, Masato, but almost at once reality impinges on her dreams. Masato’s job demands so much of his time and energy that he’s rarely home or emotionally available, which disappoints Sachiko but is well enough within cultural norms that no one around her expects anything different of him. And worse, she soon realizes that their son, Hikaru, isn’t at all what she expected: he screams when she holds him and is unresponsive to stimuli that usually engage a baby or child’s attention.

It doesn’t take long (from the reader’s perspective) before Sachiko seeks help and is informed that Hikaru might be autistic, but for a long time (from her perspective) no real support is forthcoming. Autism is poorly understood, and people ranging from Masato and his mother to their neighbors don’t accept it as an explanation for Hikaru’s increasingly age-inappropriate behavior and slower development.

Happily things do improve, albeit after a health scare that brings Sachiko and Masato closer together, and they begin to figure out how with deal with Hikaru’s unique challenges. As they find new resources and support, they’re better and better able to help him grow and to find a balance that lets them live their own lives while being good parents to him.

Volume 1 of With the Light covers Hikaru’s life from infancy through the first years of elementary school, and it’s an insightful, compassionately written book that does an excellent job of delivering on its subtitle: this is the story of raising a particular autistic child–Tobe takes great pains to emphasize that each case of autism is unique–and it maintains a good balance between being an enjoyable story and being a tool to demystify and destigmatize a condition that’s often misunderstood.

The series includes many footnotes mentioning statistics and resources on autism, as well as noting when Hikaru’s particular symptoms are individual rather than universal. (Yen Press notes that the statistics were current when the book was originally released in Japan, and provides a link to more up-to-date sources of information.) There are also essays from Japanese parents of autistic children, which describe their real-life experiences.

The book is translated by Satsuki Yamashita, who also translated both of the projects I’ve adapted for Del Rey Manga (the Genshiken Official Book and the second Tsubasa Character Guide), so my preexisting familiarity with her translation style** helped to make this a fairly comfortable read for me.

*Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have any subsequent volumes as part of their collection. It may be time to file a few purchase requests–and I’d just like to be publicly grateful that they offer that option. Apparently it’s not as common as it should be.

**It’s not exactly the same, of course; a translation intended for adaptation usually focuses more on conveying the most accurate meaning possible than on making it sound as smooth as possible.

1 Comment

  1. KJ said,

    We adopted three boys with various forms of autism and appreciate those who would blog on such an important subject. People more than ever need to be informed about autism and what life is like for those so affected since this debilitating condition seems to be on the rise.

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