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Allison Miller’s Final Exam: With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child

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With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child tells the story about two Japanese parents (Sachicko and Masato) who raise their autistic son Hikaru and their daughter Konan. The manga’s main narrator is Sachiko, a busy, yet calm mother who tells readers about her life as a mom (such as events, feelings, etc). What’s interesting about Sachiko is her perception towards Hikaru’s Autism and how she deals with it. She and her husband try to find ways to work with Hikaru’s Autism rather than struggling with him.  Though they don’t know all about their son’s behavior, they still try to accommodate with him rather than go against him, such as using a schedule so Hikaru has order, using earmuffs to block out the sound when he is in a noisy location, etc. In other words, they do not cave in to other’s perspectives about him. By showing this, Keiko Tobe shows us differences between the perception of autism between Japan and the United States. One can argue that Keiko Tobe creates Japanese parents as more accommodating and empathetic towards Autistic children than American parents in order to prove that  people perceive Autism differently in other cultures. First, one will show the difference between Sachiko’s actions with Hikaru and compare it with the American “I Am Autism” campaign. Next, one will show other people’s perceptions in the manga in comparison to America’s perception.

One way in which Japanese perception empathizes more with Autism is how Hiraku’s parents perceive Autism. They (from previous volumes), seem to be used to making Hikaru’s schedules. However, there are times when new incidents will occur. The question is, how do they deal with it? One incident occurs in episode 2 (page 47) Hiraku touches a woman’s hair on the bus and the woman freaks out. The other people on the bus freaks out by asking what was wrong with Hikaru. Although surprised by this incident, reflects on the experience first. She blames herself by saying, “I shouldn’t have been looking at my notepad.” (52). She apologizes, but quickly transitions to how to accommodate this new habit. She thinks,”He has to push the stop button a little sooner this time. On a day like this, he’ll be in a foul mood if somebody else pushes the button first.” (52) Later, she tries to find a way where Hikaru could keep his hands to himself, which she does by making a fluffy shoulder pad for his backpack (63).  In this episode, rather than thinking about herself and feeling sorry about Hikaru, she tries to find a way to make riding on the bus better without Hikaru acting up again. In other words, she accommodates both the strangers and Hikaru’s need. Compare this with America’s “I am Autism commercial” In this commercial, Autism is as an evil voice where it tells the parents, “…and if you are happily married, I will make sure your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self gain.” By stating what it will do, the voice’s main focus is on the parents rather than the child. Although parents, friends, and family fight back against “Autism”, Americans still think it’s an evil aura that we must get rid of. However, fail to state how they will accommodate their child’s needs. In other words, this perception dramatizes parents’ “suffering” more while sympathizing with themselves and their autistic child. 

Another thing that’s different between Japan’s and America’s perception is other people’s perception about Autism. Here is where reactions may be universally similar in that strangers know that something is different about an autistic child. For example, when the woman pushes Hikaru away from her on the bus, many people on the bus start to observe Hikaru more closely. In return, Hikaru gets scared as well because he needs order so he will not be afraid and confused when travelling to school. One scene that is different is when Sachiko takes Konan to the first grade induction ceremony. There are a couple of mothers who remembered Hikaru from a birthday party (he accidentally peed in his pants). What’s interesting is that call him rude up until another mother mentions that he’s  “handicapped.” However, they don’t really show sign of pitying Hikaru or Sachiko (467). Her mother in law however gets embarrassed. Compare that with the “I Am Autism” commercial. Not only does it induce fear, but creates viewers’ pity of Autism, which makes viewers want to get involve for “finding a cure” for it.  By pitying a person, they cannot empathize with them, but instead sympathize with them. Perhaps American perceptions are more sympathetic because they focus more on either the equality of Autistic children or trying to help organizations find a cure.

What’s also intersting is the affect of sympathizing. Because American’s perception seems to be more about sympathizing, people either try to help these organizations or try to stay away from that person. However, Sachiko confronts her mother-in-law about Hikaru when she says that she was embarrassed by him. Sachiko states, “I preferred my neighbors to know about Hiraku…In fact, they helped us so many times.” (476). By bringing in neighbors and friends, Tobe creates a community that helps accommodate Hikaru’s needs in order for him to function in the real world. She wants people to know that her son is Autistic so that he can live in the real world when he grows up. She brings up a very good point by saying that now is not the time to be embarrassed, but to help accommodate their child instead of pitying themselves.

Perceptions of Autism will be different in other cultures, but that doesn’t mean one’s perception is better than the other. Japan does empathize more than America, while America sympathizes more than Japan. However, both nations could learn from one another in order to use these two perceptions together to build a better system that will help their children’s needs.

Word Count: 996

Written by library1288

December 8th, 2010 at 12:07 pm