by Keiko Tobe
published by Yen Press; $14.99 US
As the series about raising an autistic child continues, this volume tackles the question of work. Hikaru’s parents worry about what he will be able to do to be self-sufficient as he ages, plus Dad is facing business problems of his own. There aren’t enough translated manga that give a relatively realistic portrayal of the Japanese businessman’s situation and expectations, so I really enjoyed that part of this book.
Hikaru’s parents have a routine of what works for communicating with their autistic son, but there are still challenges to face: How to fill time during summer vacation. Teaching the kids to cook. Overcoming fear of a yappy dog. Working with stubborn teachers. The biggest question, though, is trying to envision a future as he grows older. What kind of job can he have? Will he be able to work? What will happen as his parents grow older? It’s a fear that many caretakers of the disabled face. Right now, Hikaru is an adorable child with odd quirks, but as an adult, will people be as understanding?
Meanwhile, Dad has been effectively demoted, due to his former malicious boss sending him to a branch office in the surrounding countryside. However, he makes the best of it, using the time available — which is a lot, since no one bothers to give him work to do — to plan for the future. Japan has a law that businesses must hire disabled employees at a rate of 1.8% of their total number of employees, so Dad dreams up a proposal to create a mushroom factory with practices that would enable mentally challenged workers, like his son, to contribute and thrive while meeting the company’s employment requirements. Thanks to his determination and refusal to give up, he creates a brighter future for himself and many others.
Hikaru’s parents have also found a supportive place to assist them in their struggles: Sunshine House, where volunteers and students studying special education provide activities for the children and the community. That setting also allows for the introduction of other autistic children, demonstrating that symptoms and behaviors can differ. It provides a better rounded view of the condition.
Other stories in this book include what happens when Mom gets sick; having Hikaru formally assessed to capture his skill level; catching up with an old friend of Hikaru’s, who’s suffering in an orphanage; preparing Hikaru to go to and from school on his own; and the upcoming graduation from elementary school. Every time it’s time to move on, Hikaru’s parents have to again consider how to get their son what he needs. Choosing a school and making new connections with the staff is a struggle that will continue to be repeated as they introduce Hikaru and his situation.
The art is clear and a pleasure to read, as always. The characters are drawn with feeling, except for Hikaru, a puzzling blank. His lack of expression serves as a visual indicator of the mystery within his brain. Also clearly illustrated are the various techniques and tools the characters (and thus the readers) learn about to deal with autism.
I found it very interesting to see the resources Japan has to deal with these various questions, whether the laws requiring disabled employment or the protections for those in government institutions. The fear of abuse in a formal system is a real one. Not everyone working with the disabled has their best interests at heart. But most everyone in this series does, so it provides entertaining education to the reader.