Bill Mason, the author of The Autism Discussion Page, is prolific in producing content on his Facebook page for free. Then, he compiles all these posts into the books you can buy or you can just access his stuff free here. Many autistic advocates have rightly pointed out that Dr. Mason is not that culturally competent but he does try his best to learn and to honour the title of his page: Autism Discussion Page by featuring autistic voices to co-create his content:

June 24, 2021

I don’t have a mental map! How can I be so smart, but yet so lost? How can I have high intelligence but cannot organize my life and navigate my world? When I watch everyone around me, they are floating through their day, navigating the maze and never missing a beat. They know where they are going, how to get there, and how to navigate the daily snags and social distractions along the way. They seem to have an intuitive sense or mental map of how to get to and through their daily routine. They all seem to connect and relate with one another like they have a common goal, even though their frivolous small talk seems to have no purposeful meaning. People move so fast, bouncing from one thing to another, navigating through their invisible map. They know when to turn when to brake when to focus and when to chat. I am so lost in understanding how they navigate this. How do they shuffle through the maze, not getting lost and loving the chaos that engulfs their day?

Why do I not have this “mental map?” I can know what I want to do but seem lost in getting it done. I can define a goal but can’t seem to organize myself to get there. I solve complex computer problems, envision complex mechanical designs, spit out impressive historical facts, but cannot clean my house, get to work on time or organize my work to make project deadlines. I have a hard time paying my bills, getting myself neatly dressed, and remembering to make my doctor’s appointment. I have no sense of time. Jobs I think, will only take me an hour can take me a whole day to complete. I start many tasks without completing them and never seem to get back to them. I have good intentions but seem to get stuck before I get started. If I do make a plan, it completely falls apart as soon as an unexpected snag occurs.

I simply cannot connect the dots to define the plots that make up the lives of others. I can’t keep up and become overwhelmed by all the chaos and confusion around me. Too much uncertainty that I cannot read or grasp to provide me a vision. Somehow others have this “mental map” that guides them fluidly through the day. Without this mental map, I am lost and vulnerable. I am anxious and on guard. I fall apart easily and isolate myself to recover. Sometimes I crash and become almost immobile for days. I may not get out of bed when I need to escape. The mental and emotional drain of trying to navigate without a map is exhausting. It is so much easier to simply withdraw and avoid. But I can’t; I will keep stumbling around until I find my way. Hopefully, I will not get hurt in doing so if I could only connect the dots to define the plots. Life would be so much easier!

10 hours later:

Bob Castleman, one of our members, suggests that he has a mental map, just one that is different than others.

“I would suggest that it is not that we lack a map, but rather the map that we do have looks at different aspects of the terrain that we are navigating. The map that most people have is similar enough to other’s maps that they are able to use the same pathways through the terrain. Let’s say the most common map is a map of roads. My map is a map of rivers. Roads and rivers are both part of the terrain. But I travel by river and you travel by road. The only places we can truly communicate is at the bridges where the roads and rivers intersect.

I cannot see the roads and you cannot see the rivers. But because so many more see the roads, life is organized around traveling on roads. I must somehow intuit the existence of roads and determine ways to discern their structure and importance without being able to actually see them.

I can intuit that roads must exist because when I meet you at a bridge and communicate something, then travel to another bridge and find you waiting, you must have arrived at the second bridge by something that is not a river. If I arrive at the second bridge before you, then I can intuit that however it is that you get there, my way is faster. If you always arrive at the second bridge before me but occasionally, I get there first, I can intuit that something that does not travel the rivers interacted with you that delayed your arrival. What it was I can’t say, I can only say that it happened.

What is exhausting to me is not the traveling on the rivers or even communicating on the bridge. What is exhausting is intuiting the roads, intuiting that they actually exist, and further, that there is important information on those roads to which I have no access.

What is really hard is that my autistic map is unique to my flavor of autism. While I may build my map based on rivers, another person with autism may construct their map around railroad lines. Another might use air routes.

Clearly, this metaphor breaks down in the face of the complexities of life. But just remember, when you are teaching someone with autism about body language and social rules, you are teaching them the map most commonly used by most people. If you insist that this is the ONLY map that can be used, then you invalidate and marginalize my identity. Just because you cannot perceive my map does not make it inaccurate. So, if you truly want to know a person with autism, it is not enough to teach us how to use your map. You must also learn about ours.”