Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Answering Questions - Directions

Lately I’ve noticed that I’m pretty good at explaining my own actions, but that I’m terrible at coming up with a good subject. The reason for this, is that I take a lot of my own actions for granted. It isn’t until someone comments on it, or until someone responds in another way, that I realise I’m doing something out of the ordinary. This is also a good lesson for myself, to get more aware of what I’m doing differently, so that I can take into account that the other person with me probably needs an explanation sometimes about my actions.

So, for the first question. A friend of mine, who is autistic herself, asked me if my navigation skills are as bad as hers. Yes. My navigation skills are horrible. No, beyond horrible. My parents always joked (don’t worry, all in good fun) that I need a navigation device for all purposes, even walking and cycling and inside of buildings. Well, let’s just say ‘hurray for smartphones’!

I’ve had this problem all my life. One day at primary school the whole class went on a trip somewhere by bike. Because I didn’t exactly get along with my classmates, I drove in front with the teacher. On the way back the teacher suddenly had to turn around to correct a few students who were up to no good. He did this right in front on a piece of road that went straight and also had a turn left. I didn’t know where to go, so I panicked and simply went on the straight road, hoping for the best. The rest of the class laughed at me and took the left turn. Some said, while laughing “We went on the same road on the way there, you dummy! You didn’t even remember this?” No I didn’t.

Whenever I go somewhere, that doesn’t mean I can go there again. Even when I learned how to get somewhere, that still doesn’t necessarily mean I can find my way back. Sometimes I even hurt someone with this. I have people who I’ve known for years, who still need to pick me up from the train station, because I have no idea how to get to their home. I even have no idea how to travel the last part to a guy I dated for over 4 months. This surprises a lot of people. I’m not doing it on purpose though. I seriously tried to remember it.
If you want me to remember the way, you have to give me the time to process every little part of the road, walk over it a lot of times with me, back and forth, then let me try it again another day with you next to me. Why with you next to me? Because when I get lost I panick.

Getting lost is a whole problem on itself. When I get lost, with nothing to guide me back, I have a big problem. If I’ve crossed a few crossroads, I can’t remember which one I passed and which turn I took. Also, I can’t remember which general direction I came from. I follow certain set roads, I don’t have a map in my head.

To me (correct me if I’m wrong, this is still a big mystery to me) it seems like most people have a big 3D map in their head, connecting everything. Much like Google Earth. Whenever you learn two pieces of road which lay close to each other, you can travel in-between these roads too. (right? Am I wrong?) I can’t do this. I learn one straight road and end up where I need to be. When I turn around and want to find my way back, everything looks different. Did I take that turn left? So I should go left? Wait no, opposite, so right… Or did I take that turn right?

Whenever you try and teach me to find my way back and you let me try for myself first, you’ll probably catch me turning around a couple of times. This is because I try to remember how it looked on the way there and then try to mirror that in my head by turning back and find out where I came from. This isn’t because I’m stupid, or because I never learned to read a map. I did learn to read a map and I’m not stupid. Things just work differently for me. I don’t have a 3D map.

Rather, a city is like a big puzzle to me and all I have are separate pieces. Even the same piece turned around doesn’t look the same to me. So, what is a piece? A piece is one road. For example, the road to physical therapy. Suddenly I cross the road to physical therapy in my driving lessons from another angle. This gets me confused. Usually this leaves me exclaiming to my driving instructor: “Oh! This is where we are! I see!” Then we drive on and I’m lost again.

One time we drove from my physical therapy to a school that I know the way to too. There was just a small, easy to remember, piece of road between these things. Suddenly two pieces of puzzle connected! But just those two pieces. I know that other buildings that I know the way to must be somewhere close to physical therapy too, but I can’t drive from those building to physical therapy. I never learned about the roads in-between. I would have to go back home, then take the familiar road to physical therapy.

Someone once showed me the map of my city and showed me where all my familiar points in the city were on the map. That person then smiled at me and said “This would make things easier right??” It didn’t. So, okay, they’re there on the map. But when I’m there, things don’t look like a map. I can’t follow the little line to my direction. I also can’t remember all those lines on the map and where they went. In order to use this information I would need to take this map with me at all times and turn it around while walking.

I have the same problems in certain big buildings. Especially when they’re big with many hallways leading to the same things and some having a dead end. I would have a tour of the building and then just know that one route. Usually a tour is done in a circular way to cover everything, so I would have to make a circle in order to get to where I need to be. A lot of people look at me like I’m crazy and ask me “Why didn’t you just use this *points* road??” I can tell you why: Because I honestly didn’t know that was a possibility.

Then – many people ask me – why don’t I explore more? Because I would get lost! And getting lost equals panic. Panic makes me cry, makes me even more unable to assess the situation, gives me a headache, takes away all my energy (which I already have so little of) and can even cause hyperventilation. This would mean that I’m not just lost, I now have many medical problems. So no, random exploration isn’t a good thing to do. The one time I ever did that without panicking, was at Abunai (Anime/Manga convention), which has a building with many roads going in squares. This is a kind of circular motion too, which would just lead me back to a place I know. So no worries. Unfortunately this isn’t the case in most places. There are a lot of squares in the city, but they lead to many more squares, which just lead me further from my destination. Some cities don’t even have squares or circles. I was once lost in Amsterdam with the battery of my phone dead… Don’t make me talk about that please…

So please, don’t just laugh at someone who gets lost easily. This person might actually be really scared of going to new places because of this. Maybe this person also thinks in one-direction-roads and pieces of puzzles and isn’t just dumb. Stop laughing and start helping.

By the way, this is the reason I rarely travel without my phone nowadays. My phone is a smartphone, which has navigation, train information, bus information, etc. Some people think that I’m addicted when I panic when I don’t have my smartphone with me when I travel. That’s not true. I panic, because my smartphone is the sole reason I started to dare to travel on my own in the first place. Without it, I would be back to where I was before. Getting lost all the time, and because of this not daring to go anywhere alone. Confined in roads I know, because I would get lost if I would travel out of known areas.

If you know anyone like this, don’t laugh. Rather help this person get out of their prison of unknown roads. They will probably thank you for it.

Do you have a questions about my Autism and/or Chronic Fatigue too? Please ask me, even if it’s really personal. I will try to answer it and maybe even make a blogpost out of it. Thank you in advance!


  1. Hier nog zo een :P

  2. Hey Ellen,

    Wat kun jij dat mooi omschrijven hoe dat werkt bij jou. Ik kan zo een klein beetje begrijpen hoe dat is voor jou.

    Groetjes Annerieke