Two weeks in my new town and I’m finally starting to orient myself geographically.
It takes me a good long while to get a feel for a new town or a new neighborhood or even a new Starbucks. It’ll be weeks or months before I stop asking The Scientist things like, “do I turn left here to get to the center of town?” and “which road goes to that grocery store I like?” If I’m driving alone, I rely on Waze for directions.
It’s not just my poor sense of direction that throws me off–though that’s a big part of it. It’s my difficulty with putting all of the elements together to see the big picture. In fact, The Scientist jokes about how ironic it is that I finally figured out not just the layout of our old town but all of the best shortcuts–just in time for moving away.
In the past, I knew to expect the disoriented feeling of being in a new place but I didn’t know why it happened. I think I’ve finally figured out the why, at least in part. It’s that big picture thing that autistic people are always being told we have so much trouble with. I learn a new place based on the individual parts of it that interest me most–the details–and it takes a long time to integrate those details into a functional whole that I can not only visualize but use to navigate.
Until that happens, I know where the grocery store that I like is and I know where Target is. I know that Route A takes me from my home to Target and Route B takes me from my home to the grocery store. But ask me to go from Target to the grocery store and I’m reaching for Waze. I struggle with visualizing how “home” and “Target” and “grocery store” are related to each other in the gestalt concept of “city.”