Being Autistic Feels Like Touring Boston with a Map of Albany (Sort of, and for Me at Least)

“A map is not the territory it represents…”

Alfred Korzybski

Google Map of Albany, NYSo, this is not totally right, but I think it’s the right place to start:

Suppose you’ve come to Boston for a summer vacation, but you’ve accidentally brought a map of Albany to guide you. Because most cities have much in common with one another, your map of Albany is not totally useless. Every now and then there is, say, a Maple Avenue in Albany that happens to have a museum on it much like Boston’s own Maple Avenue has a museum on it.1 Ok, ok, so, the museum in Albany is an art museum whereas the one in Boston is for the whaling industry, but heck, they’re both museums and they’re both on Main Street, and whaling sounds kind of interesting so you go with it.

But let’s face it, Albany ain’t Boston, and you quickly discover that however useful it might be just by chance in some cases, your map of Albany is a constant source of frustration. You are constantly getting into misunderstandings with others about how to go from point A to point B. Or sometimes you might, for example, walk into a Police Station and order a dozen donuts. Or occasionally you sit down for a nice picnic in the middle of a parking lot. And then there are all the crazy looks you get from people when you ask them simple questions like “What happened to the New York State Museum? It’s supposed to be right here!” [Pointing at a hardware store.]

I don’t want to speak for all autistic people; and even though I have accumulated 5+ decades of experience living with my own particular, idiosyncratic manifestation of autism, I am really nothing like a true autism expert (in case you didn’t realize that), but for me at least I can say with great confidence that autism is a lot like touring Boston with a map of Albany — sort of.

The above scenario is the right place to start, I think, but I have one more hefty detail I need to add which is that for me it’s really more like I actually am in Albany, with a map of Albany, and it’s really everybody else that has a map of Boston.

See, I actually (sincerely, truly) believe that I’m the one with the right map, and that I’m living in a city full of people all of whom are stumbling around with maps of some other city, and not necessarily the same city at that. So, it’s not quite the same situation as the first one I described, but it winds up causing similar problems: a great deal of frustration and mutual misunderstanding. It can also make me extremely stubborn, because I am quite sure that I really do have the correct map, and I cannot for the life of me understand why on Earth I would use a map that I am quite sure is the wrong one.

I hope that’s useful.

1 I don’t know if Albany and Boston both have a Maple Avenue with a museum on it, but let’s just imagine they do for the sake of the argument.

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