01/07/2009. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Yen Press/Orbit Books. 527 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK), $14.99, $17.25 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7595-2359-3.
check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.yenpress.co.uk
for more info on Autism see the National Autistic website: www.nas.org.uk
Kioko Tobe has both written and drawn an impressive insight into the world of raising an autistic child. Sachiko and Masato Azuma family unit were tested to near breaking point with the arrival of Hikaru, an autistic child, which we discovered in the first volume, presented many challenges and trials. The couple was stretched and nearly separated. The first volume highlighted that often it's not the child's autism that is always the issue but the system you have to deal with to try and get help. The young couple finally got at least some of the help they needed and the family was restored. So much so that a new healthy sister, Kanon, was born into the family.
The arrival of a new student, Miyu, highlights that many families with autistic children do not receive the help and support they need. Aoki-sensei welcomes Miyu into the class and starts to show Miyu's mum that there is hope and support. With the advent of Aoki leaving the prospect of a new school year without Aoki-sensei spreads fear and dread to a lot of the parents of the special education class. When concerns are raised with the head teacher about Aoki's replacement, they seem to fall on deaf ears. Hikaru has also taken to wandering off into the local community and it raises some issues with local folks who know little about autism. Even when Hikaru's mum tries to explain to some, they still don't understand but a few after hearing about Hikaru's autism offer to help out and help him learn social skills.
The first volume was very family specific touching on schooling and support issues but this volume broadens the outlook with new characters such as Miyu and her mum emphasising how one's parents experience with social structure and support can differ wildly from another's. We also get to appreciate how far and how much Hikaru has learned with Miyu almost acting as a yardstick to gauge Hikaru's progress. With the advent of the new and somewhat untrained Gunji-sensei. The new special education teacher is driven into the post by her own selfish need and finds herself out of her depth and is baffled how some of the mentor students can work with the kids and she can't. There are characters who appear fleetingly just to highlight a point or social commentary.
This volume raises the need for autistic children to learn to communicate and try and integrate as much as they can but within a supportive and caring framework. The way Gunji-sensei struggles highlights the need for training and understanding and patients. Simple things like moving a classroom can have a huge impact on an autistic child. Gunji, to start off, with dismisses Aoki's advice and information and this highlights even more how preparation can make all the difference.
The volume encompasses volumes 3 & 4 of the Japanese release and covers quite a bit of ground. It is not just Hikaru who learns and grows. There some interesting extras, a few pages of cultural and translation notes, excerpts from Convention on the Rights of Children and two essays, one from an working adult with autism and one from a special education teacher. These all add to the book and provide both insight and conformation of the issues raised in the book are realistic. For anyone who wants to gain an insight into raising or working with autistic children, this is a wonderful starting point. I think also it's an entertaining and thoughtful read.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA