Prepare to enter the wild and wooly world of an adult with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism characterized by intellignce, quirks, social difficulties and downright strange and oddish behaviours.

People with Aspergers generally are high functioning in everyday life but have great difficulty connecting with others due to the inability to read faces, body language and subtle verbal clues. They also tend to take words literally and have a hard time multi-tasking.

Oversensitivity to touch (clothing has to be soft and often the tags removed), light (do not leave home without the sunglasses), sound (loud noises and noisey places are avoided), taste (many Aspies have quite a limited diet and are frequently very picky eaters) and smells makes the everyday existence more of a challenge.

Fasten your seatbelts and come on in...
To find out more about what Aspergers is..please check out my earliest blog entries

Monday, January 23, 2012

Topographic Agnosia...I get lost very easily


In searching the net I have come across the term, Topographic Agnosia, also known as "Place Blindness", Navigational Agnosia, Developmental Topographic Disorientation (when the condition is present at birth) with "agnosia" meaning loss of or inability.
Some people with autistic spectrum disorders such as Aspergers frequently become lost because they can't remember previously known places. It has been estimated that up to one third of those with Aspergers (no idea where the writer got this number from..would love to know) suffer from topographic agnosia, or place blindness, which causes them to become lost easily. This can happen in areas they know very well if familiar landmarks change.
I can attest to the fact that I use various landmarks to navigate and that the toughest times for me are when the seasons change as the house with snow on it looks quite different from the house in summer minus the snow.
To get to one store on the main highway, I look for the cell phone tower And the black mailbox to know when to slow down and make my turn. I frequently take the same exact routes and I insisted on my newest car to be equipped with a navigation system.
On a recent vacation when we stayed a couple nights in one small North Dakota town, I had a heckuva time figuring out where to go as half the corners were missing street signs. Luckily it was a very small town and I could eventually find my way back to the motel.
A person with TA could live in a neighborhood for years and not recognize local houses if he sees them out of context. When out on hikes, the place-blind individual might remember particular special landmarks such as unusual trees or unique bridges but otherwise be unable to find his way around the woods even on a route he has travelled many times.
I cannot tell you how many times I have logically known that I was on a familiar road but I felt lost and could not locate my usual landmarks. When it is raining or snowing and omg, especially at night, everything looks different, new, scary and strange.
Place-blind individuals tend to rely on very specific landmarks such as particular billboards, telephone booths, or hedge but if the hedge is cut down or even trimmed differently, the phone booth is removed or painted a different color, or the billboard changed (PANIC!), the individual may become lost even on a familiar route that she has traversed many times.

Topographical Agnosia may occur in conjunction with prosopagnosia, or face-blindness as the areas of the brain responsible for both functions is in close proximity. Having one condition does not necessarily mean that the other will also be present.

Topographic Agnosia can be thought of as a neurologically based impairment in finding ones way around. People with Ta are not able to make maps of geographic space in their heads and have an extremely poor sense of direction and tend to get lost very easily.
On a personal note, yet again...there is a reason my partner does most of the driving and I rarely venture outside of my small town. Partner has remarked on many, many occasions that I could not find my way out of a paper bag. I have often referred to myself as agoraphobic but that may not be entirely accurate.

There is a reason I enjoy small town living..I can't get lost very easily. I have lived in the same exact house for 17 years and that really helps.
I had two jobs from hell...go figure, one was pizza delivery in a large city and the other was flower delivery in my hometown. The latter was not so much a problem except that I always asked for extensive directions even if I had been sent to that same neighborhood the day before. Thankfully my boss was very kind and patiently explained.
I get lost in buildings quite readily. Even in a familiar doctor office, dentists, places I frequent often, I have to stop and figure out which way to proceed. I have no sense of direction and get turned around quite easily.
Vacations are fraught with anxiety and I usually just stick with my partner all the time. I have noticed that when we would drive into a city to spend the night, I immediately would start looking for landmarks around our hotel and try and remember them, sometimes actually writing them down.
This simply explains so much. Growing up, I rarely left the house alone. As a teen at work, I often rode with someone else. I have a hard time being by myself when out of the house.
Truth be told, I live on a small mile loop of a street and in the past couple of months, I went for a walk by myself and at one point, I had to stop and locate familiar houses because I suddenly felt that I was in a strange, new place.

The change of seasons, omg, places look different...trees, which are common markers for me, look quite different with leaves and then without. Snow covering roads, brush and houses simply look quite different. I rarely drive at night and when I do it is as if every stretch of road is new terrain. I kid you not.
There is a good reason this Aspie typically travels with someone. Its amazing I ever leave my house.

Lost in the Woods Coping with My TA
Okay, so I have a bit going on and for solace I go for a walk in the woods. My friend, T, first introduced me to this long series of trails a couple of years ago. The first time I went with her, my kids and hers. I really liked the area so I had to ask her to go with me a second time so I could become familiar enough with it to go on my own. She complied. Then I decided to give it a go without her and went solo with my boys. Since that time, I have consistently taken to the woods by myself. It is very peaceful and sparsely used by others and I feel pretty comfortable there. The trails can go on for a few miles and I have taken to using the mid-length trail and going the same exact route each time.
Thus today, armed with camera and smart phone, I set off into the woods. I heard a number of birds and kept scanning the horizon and canopy to see if I could capture anybody on film.
About halfway through my trek, I heard a new and most unusual call. Camera on and I started searching the treetops. After a number of minutes, I was able to locate the still unidentified songstress but did catch him/ her in a few distant shots to be blown up and examined......then as I turned off my camera....I looked down and quite suddenly realized that the ground on which I stood, the pathway, looked completely foreign to me...as if I had never been there before in my entire life (I had been on this exact pathway....wait for it...yesterday).
I looked left....I looked right...not a single thing looked familiar. Of course it is spring and the topography, the trees and their burgeoning leaf and flower production is dramatically changing almost within every moment and especially day to day.
The ground, well, it was darker, which I later attributed to an early morning rain, but it looked quite different. Looking left, the pathway appeared...crowded, as the newly forming leaves were now hanging closer to and slightly over the way. Going back to my right, nothing at all looked recognizable. I realized that I had come from the left and needed to proceed right...yeah, I had to formulate from whence I had came and which way to go.
When the topographic agnosia hit, which I find rather curious in that I was fine as long as I had been in movement, walking and it struck when I paused for a number of minutes and changed my viewpoint upwards....I immediately started an internal dialogs to alleviate the ensuing panic that had started to rise.
"I know where I am...even though nothing looks familiar. This is my usual path and I have walked this path dozens and dozens of times. I was here just yesterday. Yes, this is my brain, my topographic agnosia...it will be okay..figure out which way is out...stay calm...I know where I am intellectually, logically, yes, I understand, even though my physical body feels panicky, it's okay, I can do this."
Taking that first step....after figuring out which direction was forward...it was really tough, to take that first step amongst the subdued panic...but I did it. I also started taking a few pictures...it helped me to feel in control on some level and off I went.
As I walked, I controlled the urge to bolt and run, throw up my hands and say, "never again...never again will I put myself in a position to feel this afraid...This is why..this is why I dont like to go out alone...I hate this...I hate this....sometimes it sucks to be me." I walked as calmly as possible...constantly internally reassuring myself.
I made it out of the woods...and I will walk that path again...albeit with a small about of Xanax..maybe

Waking up in strange places
I recently completed the most challenging feat of my life, thus far. I drove by myself, 400 miles one way, stayed in a hotel room solo, for the first time in my life, for two nights and drove 400 miles back.....You Have No Idea
I returned triumphantly, exhausted and to no applause or accolades. You have no idea...truly.
Since I have Topographic Agnosia which basically means I often feel lost even in familiar ground, my adventure was filled with little "tricks" and coping strategies.
Umm, I didn't sleep well as I had to constantly tell myself where I was...my eyes and brain on high alert every time I awoke from a few minutes of restless sleep. It was like having one of those scrolling message boards that continually played the same message over and over..my location..I am safe..stuff like that. Always on. Always.

Now I know what it must feel like....people waking up in a strange bed after a night of partying...not knowing where one is...but my brain stayed, pretty much turned-on so I was fine.

Navigation...driving. I figured since my brain doth deceive me Anyway, that the scenery really didn't matter and was more likely to incite a panic if I noticed something astray so I....softened my focus and awareness to my surroundings and only paid attention to my on board navigation system and maps. There weren't a lot of road changes or exits to worry about so just lightened up on my outward focus.
When I would go to park my car, I always made sure I pointed it towards the direction I needed to go next. Like at a gas station or store...thus I knew I could get in and which way to drive towards.
Yikes...a few times I made the mistake of looking at my onboard compass....big mistake because the direction always felt very wrong so I learned to ignore (the very intense feeling of dismay and the compass) and simply check my navigation map. Man, I could Not have undertaken my journey without that navi system!
I had made the same trip a couple times before, with others, and I stopped at semi-familiar places.

Yeah, having my own little hotel room was quite odd. I had never even seen a "single", room for one. It was nice to lay my stuff out where I could see it and locate my things with just a glance...and No, I didn't put Anything in drawers as possession is 9/10ths of the law...I kept all my clean clothes in the suitcase.
All this packing these past few months has enabled me to learn what To pack and what is unnecessary.
I slept with the tv on so I could always see where I was when I woke up.

One nice thing about traveling alone...I didn't have to talk or even look at anybody. I didn't care what anyone thought about the way I dressed or smelled...yeah, changing clothes can be a challenge...I didn't care
Hmmm, odd, one of the other nice things was...I never had to apologize to anyone for my autistic or unusual behavior. I didn't have to preface, explain or apologize...I could just be me....no explanation necessary

When alone..its easier to hear the beat of your own drum....
Im learning to cope with my TA

3 comments:

  1. This is me!! It's a relief to find this :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. And, this is me! It took over 70 years to hear of others like myself.

    ReplyDelete