To new mother Sachiko Azuma, her baby boy is the light of her life. Accordingly, she names him Hikaru, Japanese for “to be bright.” Eager to raise her son, Sachiko gradually begins to notice that Hikaru seems a bit different from other children. He is reluctant to be held or hugged, and his growth and development appear slow. Sachiko’s suspicions are confirmed when it is suggested that Hikaru, at a year-and-a-half, may be deaf. A specialist, however, reaches a different diagnosis: autism.
By: Keiko Tobe
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: True to Life Drama
Autism is a disability you hear a lot about, but not so much about what it actually is, or what the families that have to deal with and go through. With the Light changes that, by showing one family’s trials and triumphs with dealing with their son’s disability. This first volume starts at Hikaru’s birth and goes through third grade in elementary school. It’s a dramatic story that doesn’t need embellishing, and one that hits home for me. At times, it will make you cry.
The story follows Sachiko Azuma, a new mother whose son is born autistic. He isn’t diagnosed immediately, and even when it is suggested, Sachiko tries to deny that he’s different. But soon it becomes apparent that Hikaru is different from other children his age, and she seeks help, which she gets at a Welfare Facility. An indifferent husband and hostile mother-in-law makes things difficult for Sachiko, as they don’t understand Hikaru, and blame her for his problems. A stint in the hospital from exhaustion and subsequent outburst from Sachiko makes Masato rethink things, and he becomes more involved with raising Hikaru. Working together now, Sachiko and Masato now have the outside world to fight, to get Hikaru into Daycare to prepare him for elementary school.
Sachiko is a strong female lead. At first she struggles alone, bearing the brunt of the disapproval of the people around her, and dealing with the frustrations by herself. But she never gives up. Once she accepts Hikaru’s disability, she finds outside support that gives her the strength to keep going, even in the face of her own husband’s indifference and disapproval, to the point that she considers leaving him, for Hikaru’s sake. She doesn’t try to hide Hikaru’s disability. Instead, she constantly tries to explain to people what it is and ask for their understanding at the very least. This isn’t always easy, as one mother’s jealousy snowballs into Hikaru getting injured.
For every dark moment however, there are light ones. Once Sachiko and Masato understand their son’s condition, they put everything they having into helping him. Masato takes a job with less responsibilities so he can help more. With the right attention and teaching, Hikaru starts to grow, learning to speak and write. They get a lot of support from the Daycare they take him to, both from the caregivers and the kids. Moe is a girl his age who takes to mothering him, and helps her own mother to understand Hikaru’s disability. In elementary school, the principal and teachers continue the support, so that by the field day in third grade, Hikaru can participate in the activities with everyone else.
I said this story hit home for me, and that’s because my youngest daughter has a disability; achondroplasia, or dwarfism. It isn’t anywhere near as serious as Hikaru’s, but so many things that Sachiko goes through really resonated with me. It really is a shock when you are first told that your child has a disability, that they won’t be normal like the other children. One of the first thoughts that does run through your head as a parent is ‘did I do something wrong to cause this to happen?’ ‘Was it my fault that this happened to my child?’ The reassurances from doctors that it isn’t your fault or you had no control over it do help. My daughter’s diagnosis was similar to Hikaru’s. Our regular doctor didn’t know why she wasn’t hitting her milestones on time. We were sent to a specialist that only had to look at her to know what the problem was. And then there are the explanations. You do them a lot when the child is young and can’t talk for themselves. We were fortunate to have the same Daycare through most of our daughter’s infancy, so once was enough, and they worked with us. But once she started elementary school, every year we had to start over with a new teacher, explaining her limitations, and more importantly what she was capable of doing. By third grade though, everyone in school knew her, or knew of her.
While With the Light is a story about autism, much of its lessons can be applied to any disability. This title does a wonderful job of not just explaining what autism is, but of also showing what family goes though, and sadly, what society thinks, and how it judges both the afflicted and their family. But it also shows that there’s hope and support can found through understanding. By dramatizing the story, instead of just using words, you can really feel the emotions of the characters. You really sympathize with them and their situation. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. And it’s just a darned good story. I highly recommend this volume and title.