As I was attempting to re-organize our home office yesterday, I discovered that we have a fair number of geography books. Although Alex loves math best, and science comes a close second, he also has enjoyed studying geography over the years. Like me, at an early age he memorized all of the U.S. states and their capitals, and I would bet that he still could identify all fifty states on a blank map simply by their shapes and locations. If asked to name his favorite state, he would pick our home state of Indiana, but for some reason unknown to us, he also holds great affection for Texas. No one we know lives there, nor has Alex ever been there, but he likes the Lone Star State. He even says “Texas” with a big smile and an enthusiastic yet soft voice as he emphasizes the last s of the name. He gets especially excited if he sees a Texas license plate, which is pretty rare here in the Midwest.
I think Alex’s love of geography is directly related to his fascination with maps. Like my dad, he can spend hours poring over maps in atlases. I would guess that a lot of the appeal behind these maps lies in the various numbers, such as interstate, national, and state highways; distance scales; charts indicating mileage between cities; and tables listing populations of various towns and cities. Those kinds of statistics amuse Alex as he studies them. In addition to road maps and atlases, Alex also likes large world maps. In fact, he has had several world maps over the years because from his frequent handling of them, they’ve become worn, torn, and battered, and they needed to be replaced often. He likes to spread the maps out on the floor, then sit or lie on his stomach, gazing at the countries before him. For a while, he had a particular interest in the smaller countries of the former Soviet Union, particularly those that ended in –stan. As I recall, his favorite was Turkmenistan, probably because it reminded him of turkey, one of his favorite things to eat. However, he also found talking about Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan entertaining, too.
In addition to his traditional maps, Alex also has electronic interactive maps of the United States and the world. These electronic toys not only contain maps of the states or countries, but they also teach various facts about the places by pushing buttons that activate sound to tell about places or ask questions in a game format. While these high-tech maps have kept him engaged for hours over the years, he also has enjoyed studying the inexpensive place mats that I found at Kmart with a map of the United States and one with a map of the world. He especially liked that the world map placement included degrees of longitude and latitude, and the United States map designated the various time zones, which combines his love of maps and clocks. Besides his maps, he also likes globes; he has two globes of the world in his bedroom that also double as lamps because they are illuminated by a night light bulb. For many years, he kept one of the globe lights on all night long as a night light for his room, perhaps comforted by the idea that everything in the world was right so long as it were lit. Ironically, though Alex loves studying various places far and near, he hasn’t traveled much because his unpredictable behavior makes him not a good traveler. Maybe the maps allow him to venture in his mind to places he’s not ready to go. On the other hand, I like to think that he’s planning trips to places he’d like to see in the future, once the obstacles of autism are a faint memory for all of us. I hope so.
“As the men started on their way to map out the land, Joshua instructed them, ‘Go and make a survey of the land and write a description of it. Then return to me, and I will cast lots for you here at Shiloh in the presence of the Lord.’ “ Joshua 18:8