For years, I traveled with the aid of maps. I would spend time before and during my travels perusing the “big picture,” selecting the most scenic routes, or if I was in a hurry, the most efficient and direct. When Tom entered my life, I simply entered an address and followed his directions to get to my destination. Through the years, however, I’ve noticed that Tom gets “stuck” on a particular route, and will do anything to get me to follow his advice, even if it’s not at all scenic or efficient! He’ll advise me to make a U-turn, or go miles out of my way to get back to the highway he has selected. If I select a route which is contrary to his choice, I finally have to turn him off to avoid his constant, seemingly desperate admonitions “Now…make a U-turn,” or “in 300 feet, turn left.”
I’m often struck by the similarities between “Tom” and the people I know who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s or autism. They often function very effectively when they are able to follow familiar routines, or can make decisions based on a known commodity. However, when faced with unfamiliar people or expectations (or changes in routine), they become very flustered, even to the point of shutting down or having a “meltdown.” They’re struggling to process information and respond given the information they have, but they’re missing something important that would help them to be more effective. Just like “Tom” has no way of knowing that I’ve selected a more scenic route, or the roads have been changed since his software was developed, or there’s a traffic jam ahead, people with ASD (autism spectrum disorders) have difficulty judging intent, generalizing, learning from experience, and “seeing the big picture” (a process called “gestalt processing”).
Are you someone who, like Tom, insists on doing something a certain way, even if it’s not the most effective? Do you know someone who uses “GPS processing?” Next steps might include gathering more information, providing better details about expectations, using strategies to help see the big picture, identifying a goal and various steps to achieve it, and/or accessing available supports to help you or them keep moving forward. And don’t forget to celebrate the benefits of GPS processing—just like “Tom” has often helped me navigate safely and successfully to my destination, people with ASD have many strengths and abilities that benefit all of us!
Best wishes for a week of exciting insights as you navigate your daily routines!