June 22, 2010

Autism In Translation

As part of the Silicon Valley Moms Group Book Club, I just finished reading Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok. It was a quick and easy read (which is good because Moe has picked up some interesting new obsessions that are requiring me to be on my toes. These include playing with the water that comes out of the fridge, playing with the dog's water dish and climbing the bookshelf to get into the fish tank. But I digress...).

The first half of the book focuses on a young girl's experience moving from Hong Kong to New York. Her mother spoke no English, and she had just the limited English skills she learned in school. Despite being very bright, Kimberly struggled at first in school because she could not keep up with what was being said in class. The author used an interesting device to describe what it was like for Kim, writing dialog the way Kim heard it. For example, when Kim goes to visit a friend at her house, the pets come running toward them. The friend's mom says "Don't be afraid,...I know they can be over woman if you're not used to animals but they won't hot you." In another scene, the principal of Kim's school asks her if she needs any "recordy shunts" (recommendations), and describes that financial aid is available but that budgets may already be "ex-sausaged" (exhausted).

Kim also has a tough time fitting in with the others at school. In addition to the language barrier, she is incredibly poor and both her ethnicity and hand-made clothes cause her to stand out as being different. But more than that, she has trouble understanding the youth culture, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that kids interact, express interest in each other, and form friendships. Her outstanding intellect and strict manners, not valued in her public school the way it was in Hong Kong, further set her apart from her peers.

This got me wondering if this might be a useful way to think about Moe's experience with the world. I know I am always talking at him, asking him to do things (or, more likely, not do them), asking him questions, and setting expectations. Many times, I think he understands that something is expected of him, but has no idea what. Other times, he clearly wants to have or do something, but has no way to express his desires. As he gets older, navigating the world of social interactions is likely to also be difficult for Moe. Even if Moe does learn to communicate, which we believe he will, so much of what happens in human interaction is unspoken.

I have no idea if this is a valid analogy for Moe's experience with the world or not. I struggle every day to understand what is going on in Moe's head. I wish I could get inside there and know what it is like for him and how to help him interpret the world. For now, we try to find some common ground, and I think we've found some of that in sign language. I also hug and kiss him as much as I can, squeezing him tight, and hope that the language of a mother's love does not need any interpretation.

The book, Girl in Translation, was provided to me free of charge by the publisher as part of the Silicon Valley Moms Group Book Club. I was not paid for this review.

9 comments:

  1. Oh to get inside their heads!

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  2. Beautiful post. I am sure Moe does not need a translator to know he is loved by you.

    my post on the book is at: www.channelingricky.blogspot.com

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  3. I wish we had a Being John Malkovich like experience and could get into our kids' heads! Loved your post.
    I just bought the book on amazon - couldn't wait!

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  4. It's so hard to get truly inside anyone else's head. You sound like you have a beautiful relationship with Moe, and indeed, a mother's love needs no translation. I am really honored that my novel inspired some of these thoughts.

    Best,
    Jean Kwok

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  5. wow, what a wonderful interpretation of this book. Perhaps someday Moe will write a similar story, expressing his take on life as a child, in comparison to "the rest of us"

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  8. it is good inspire article and really good related that topic.

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I love comments! Respectful disagreement always encouraged.

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