Just before spring break, I spoke with Sweet M's teacher. Her class had been doing a social studies unit on immigration, and apparently Sweet M just hasn't been getting it. When they're doing social studies it's all based on verbal information — on class discussions — and it seems to be the proverbial case of in one ear and out the other, or just plain over her head. So I said that over the break I'd do some work with her on immigration, using pictures and movies.
We started out making this timeline of our family. Since Fathersvox is an immigrant to the U.S. and I've lived abroad, we had two local, concrete examples of what is and isn't immigration. We started with the present, 2007, and went backward to when Sweet M was born, and then to when Fathersvox and I met and married, and then to when he moved to New York from Canada, and then to when his family moved from France to Canada.
Then we started to do my story — how I moved from California to Japan and then to New York, and how that is not immigration, it's just called living abroad.
Sweet M was so completely bored. It was excruciating. She hated doing this. And I don't think she understood anything we talked about, even with all the pictures and drawings. I realized that it's going to be nearly impossible for her to do a subject like this until she has a better sense of temporality and categories. Once you start to think about it, immigration is incredibly complicated. First, there are so many categories that you need to understand:
• continentsAnd then there are the particular names of the particular continents, countries, and states. How do you remember which is a country and which is a state? And what do you do with something like "New York" that's both a state and a city?
• states (and for Canada provinces, but we left that out)
And then, there is the matter of temporality. Since Sweet M's sense of time — of past, present and future — has just been emerging in a solid way, it's pretty hard to get her to think of "10 years ago" or "20 years ago." Then there is the baffling idea that time existed before you did. And harder still is the idea of temporary states of being ("living abroad" or "traveling") versus more permanent (or intended-to-be-permanent) states that would be examples of immigration.
It's really hard! So very hard. Much too hard. Even doing everything with visuals, it was impossible.
I was back to thinking about that idea of a zone of proximal development . . . when something you're doing is close enough to what you already know, but just a little more challenging, it's really fun. Then you're in what the happiness psychologists call "flow." But when it's even one step beyond that, it's frustrating, even torturous.
Sweet M doesn't have the basic structures to take-in this social studies immigration information yet, so it's completely useless. And so exceedingly not fun.
Sweet M was not having fun. I was not having fun.
We were talking about Japan, and I was trying to get her interested, so I said, "You know, Pokemon comes from Japan."
"Wow, really, Pokemon comes from Japan?"
This was the very first glimmer of interest she'd displayed in the four 30 minute sessions we spent working on this.
"Yes, really, Pokemon comes from Japan . . . The guy who made-up Pokemon is Japanese."
"Wow, cool! Let me write THAT down," she said.
You'll see it right smack dab in the middle of the time line, the central information: "Pokemon come from Japan."
Now we just have to figure out what that means. When Pokemon comes from Japan is that living abroad, immigration, or Pokemon invasion?
*Thank you all who have written about autism migrations you've made or are planning. It was immensely moving to read about the journeys you've taken or are making to find what your families need. I am interested because I am thinking of moving, but can't imagine what might be better. We don't want to go from frying pan to, well, you know . . .