Schweda, With the Light

Pre-Warning: I’ve been struggling with keeping up with names in this novel so I apologize in advance for my very generic labeling of characters.

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child was probably the most heart-wrenching piece I’ve encountered this semester.  I think that we’ve read a lot of really interesting pieces this semester that painted autistic children as savant or incredibly gifted but skimmed over a lot of the hardships of actually raising a child with this disability.  I think this series of stories shows the raw hardships of how the stress of raising a child who is deemed different at an early age can completely change somebody’s life.  The hardest part about this novel for me was seeing how hard the mother worked and worked to build a relationship with her son, only to be struck down by her husband, her mother-in-law, her friends, and ultimately society.  The use of the word “depression” didn’t shock me when reading this novel.  I actually did some research to find out exactly how many mothers raising children with autism suffer from disease. According to the Illinois News Bureau:

“More than 30 percent of the mothers raising children with ASD reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms when their children were 9 months old. That rate compared to 21 percent of mothers raising children with other disabilities and slightly more than 16 percent of mothers with typically developing children.”

As an avid mental health awareness supporter, I found a lot of comfort when the mother in our novel began going to the classes designed to help mother’s raising children with autism. In fact, according to Autism Speaks, these classes are very real and show extremely positive rates of success in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression in mother’s raising children with ASD. The research mentioned in this article found that by reducing such factors, the mothers were able to strengthen their interactions with their children, which I think we also see in this novel.

Raising a child with autism is a selfless act and as a parent, I imagine it’s really difficult to see the payoff at times.  Like in the novel when all the mother wants is to hear her son refer to her as “mommy”.  She struggles and struggles to communicate and work with him and right when she all but forgets that that’s the goal she has, he looks at her and says her name.  The fact that the artist took two whole pages for the picture of joy the mother has says everything about that moment.  What can be seen as something small for a normal parent, has the possibility to mean the world to a parent raising a child with ASD.

In conclusion, I think that this book does a remarkable job with describing the hardships of being a parent in this situation.  The author leaves nothing out and attacks the hard and raw issues that I haven’t seen as much of from the other novels we’ve covered this semester (not to say that they aren’t there as well).  I think that telling this story as a graphic novel enhances the story because we physically and metaphorically see so many different things at play.  Between the physical reactions of some of the sub-characters and their actual remarks, this book encompasses so many different aspects of raising children with autism and I personally think that it’s incredible.

Citations:

https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/204598

https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/reducing-stress-depression-and-anxiety-mothers-kids-autism

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3 thoughts on “Schweda, With the Light

  1. katieebuugg

    I had many similar feelings while reading this text for this week. (One of those similarities being that I had trouble keeping up with the names so pardon my generic references also). Like you, I found this reading to be very heart-wrenching but also heart-warming at times. My heart was consistently breaking for the mother in this story and I wanted so badly for her son to one day wake up and be able to acknowledge her in the ways she was longing to be acknowledged. However, when thinking about this, unfortunately having a child with autism who just one day turns around and can all of a sudden express and recognize emotional behaviors is simply unrealistic. I think that’s what I liked most about this piece and how it was written. I liked how realistic this story line felt, because I felt like for the first time I was seeing a true representation of autism without it being presented as “angelic” or similar to someone with super powers. The mother in this story struggled with herself, the lack of support from her friends and family, and the hardships of society when it came to her child. I tried to put myself in her shoes in many of the different situations presented in the story, and I can’t see myself handling the struggles any better than what she did. I can not imagine the level of patience that is needed when trying to relate or understand a child or adult even who has autism. I knew before that it took a lot of patience and understanding but the different scenarios in this story showed me an even deeper side of how much patience it really takes. I liked how you did some research on mothers of autistic children because I was wondering about some of those statistics also. After seeing what the mother had to go through in this piece with her son, unfortunately the statistics about mothers with autistic children and how the exhaustion of trying so hard can relate to depression symptoms did not surprise me at all. There were times while reading this text that I felt sad and depressed for the mother, just seeing how hard it was for her and how much she was struggling. All in all, I thought this text like you mentioned, was a great example of how hard it can be raising an autistic child in our world today.

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  2. kiesselt

    Similar to your post and to the comment above, I found myself sympathizing with the mother the most throughout the book. I agree that this is the first story that we’ve read that has demonstrated realistic portrayals of a child with ASD and how difficult it is to create and maintain a relationship between society and family members when you have a disabled child. My favorite, and the most heart-wrenching, part of the story was watching the mother find her strength and really reflect on what she needed to do in order to strengthen her relationship with her son. She could have given up and lived in denial of her child’s disability, which would have resulted in a poor mother-son connection. I think the beginning of this story showed how the the parents have as much of a role in being able to benefit and help the child with ASD to develop, and it demonstrated that parents and others should realize that the coping methods and strategies can be taught as long as you can acknowledge the disability and try to get help. As the mother realizes she has support and begins to gather more and more confidence in being able to help her son, her son starts to flourish as well as her own relationship with her son, husband, family, and friends. I think one of the biggest morals to the story is that considering ASD as a “problem” is one of the biggest hardships for parents and society to overcome and can have negative consequences. For this reason, I loved the positivity in the story; once Hikaru’s parents and family stopped viewing his autism as a problem and a hinderance and instead accepted the fact that he had the disability, they were able to help Hikaru develop and transition into society more easily.

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  3. emimarr

    I think you hit the nail right on the head with your point that With the Light showcases the struggles of parenting a child with autism. While some texts we read in class touched on it – for example the focus on Christopher’s parents in The Curious Incident – most of the works have glossed over the difficulties and instead focused on the talents that the characters possess. These texts portraying those with autism in a positive light rather than demonising them. However, it’s also important to get the full picture in regards to this disorder.

    After reading your analysis, I wondered about how raising a child with autism in Japan might be a different experience to raising them in the U.S. I knew that there was more of a stigma in Japan around mental disorders and illnesses, so I looked into the matter and found some statistics. Due to the negative conceptions regarding mental illness in Japanese society, 50% of people interviewed with mental illnesses stated they would prefer not to speak out about them (‘Mental Illness in Japan’). The lack of resources for those who are mentally ill has resulted in suicide rates in Japan are twice as high as they are in the U.S. (Priestley). I can only imagine that having depression due to the stress of raising a neurodivergent child would make it all the more difficult to seek help. There is an immense pressure on parents – especially mothers – to show no sign that they are struggling. A mother with depression would be widely regarded in Japan as someone who is just not ‘cut out’ for the job. Given all of this information, I was relieved that Sachiko did decide to seek help and learned she was not alone.

    Mental conditions such as autism are also more stigmatised in Japan than in the U.S., which explains Masato’s initial distance from his son. It was interesting to me that while many Western societies stress that institutionalisation is problematic, Japanese society considers it to be preferable. Those who deviate from the societal norm are kept separately from the rest of society due to Japan’s ‘abundance of hospital beds’ (‘Mental Illness in Japan’). This ‘social distance’ (‘Mental Illness in Japan’) between neurotypical and neurodivergent people results in increased stigma due to a lack of understanding about neurodivergency. Through awareness about mental disorders and increased interaction with those who are neurodivergent, stigma and stereotypes can be reduced, as was illustrated in With the Light through Masato’s growing relationship with Hikaru.

    This research aided me in gaining a better understanding of how autism and other disorders are viewed around the world. I feel that it was important for us to read this manga in class to gain this new knowledge, and to see autism from a different viewpoint rather than just through the lens of the ‘savant’ or ‘saviour’.

    Citations
    Priestley 2009, New Documentary Explores Taboo Subject of Mental Illness in Japan. Available from: https://www.japantoday.com/category/arts-culture/view/new-documentary-explores-taboo-subject-of-mental-illness-in-japan. [27 November 2016].

    2015, Stigma on Mental Illness in Japan: Causes, Consequences, and Suggestions for Improvement. Available from: https://understandinginternationalmentalhealth.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/stigma-on-mental-illness-in-japan-causes-consequences-and-suggestions-for-improvement/. [27 November 2016].

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