Last week in class we had a pretty long introduction on this week’s reading of With the Light. Because this book is a “manga”, which many of us in the class were unfamiliar with, we required some background information to get going. I will admit by the end of the video and class discussion last week I was feeling very overwhelmed by the idea of reading this book. As I began to read it over Thanksgiving I was initially frustrated by reading from the right side of the page to the left and reading inside little circles, rectangles and squares. But, as I read on and became more used to reading in the midst of drawings I actually liked it.
This surprised me due to my lack of knowledge on manga and Japanese culture, but I really did. I definitely agree with what the professor said, and what other students have attested to in their blog posts, that this book was the most accurate portrayal of autism we’ve come across thus far. I found this manga to be very moving as it told the less-pleasant side of what autism may be like for families, especially in even less aware or accepting cultures.
Up until this book I believe we’ve only looked at autistic characters that live in either the United States or that live in England. I really enjoyed seeing how Japanese culture was shown to respond to an autistic child and the family.
For my research this week I was curious why Japanese society is portrayed less accepting than American society of people with disabilities or who are neurodivergent. My first thought was that maybe they had a lower rate of autism in their society, therefore they are less surrounded by it and less familiar with it. This turned out to be false. In fact, Japan has the highest rates of autism in children (161 out of 10,000 children) and the U.S. is the fifth highest (147 out of 10,000 children) with Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom having higher rates than the U.S. as well.
So, since it must not be a lack of prevalent autism in their society, I began thinking it must be their culture that highly regards obedience, respect and success that make the society as a whole seem less accepting than other cultures. The stigma of autism is hard for anyone in any culture to maneuver around. I can imagine that in Japan where control is important, a child that is seemingly out of control would be hard for the public eye to give the benefit of the doubt to.
This is not only Japan but all people everywhere: when something is new it can be scary and frustrating; then as a response people generally avoid things that scare and/or frustrate them; then the lack of understanding or willingness to learn about this new, scary thing only further propels the misconceptions people have of autism and the behaviors and differences that those with ASD possess. Even though in Japan autism is common throughout the society, basically 2 people in 125 have autism, the mere stigma of being different, uncontrolled, disobedient, disrespectful or even unpromising for success, prevents people from feeling comfortable educating themselves on the topic. This lessens awareness and spreading awareness is a huge first step in understanding.
I’m unsure how this could change in Japanese society, but as I read the book it certainly gave me hope for not only traditional Japanese families who don’t want to believe their child is neurodivergent, but also for all families in general who struggle with this new and intimidating task of figuring out autism. I appreciated the struggle between the parents, Masato and Sachiko that took place in the beginning of the story. It showed the day to day miscommunication, frustration an exhaustion that can come from learning about your autistic child. It also showed that if all members of the family are willing to learn and try hard as a family than they can overcome the hurdles that can come along with ASD.