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How a GPS Game Helps Me as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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I never really had many friends growing up. I’d struggle with social and communication skills at times. I didn’t “fit in” anywhere. And learning to drive was a challenge due to being overwhelmed on the roads. (I would typically stay on small roads within a mile or two of my home.) In 2005, when I was in 10th grade, I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

A year later, I was walking my dog at my local park and discovered a little container hidden in the woods. It was a tube made of clear plastic with a green top, and no bigger than a film canister. A sticker on the outside of it read “A19,” and there was a piece of paper tucked inside. Curiously (and without really thinking), I grabbed it and brought it home for a better look.

When I was home and no one was around, I took out the container and opened it up. The piece of paper said “GEOCACHING GAMEPIECE.” As I read further, my heart sank. It said, “Please don’t move the container.” I found a website address at the bottom, and quickly logged on to contact the owner of the tube.

The response I received was so kind. They explained how geocaching is a GPS-based treasure hunting game. The object of the game is to find the hidden containers at posted coordinates, sign a piece of paper inside to log the find, and then replace the container for others to look for it. They also told me to feel free to keep the container I’d found, as it had been part of a small one-day event that had ended. (Had it been a regular geocache, I would have needed to put it back.) I was instantly hooked and wanted to join the game myself!

After a little while of attempting to play on my own, I attended an event and found some with other members. What I didn’t even notice at the time was how accepting the community was. They would give me hints when I was struggling and cheered on my successful finds. I had found a group where I felt free to be myself.

The other benefit I slowly came to realize was that I was driving further and further. After finding all of the geocaches in my neighborhood, I had to extend my search. So I’d look for the next closest one on the map, and then figure out some back roads I could take to get to it. The geocache was like a prize for my accomplishment. This driving process has continued over the years, and more recently I’ve found myself driving to another state entirely!

When I was a child, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. Through activities such as geocaching, I finally feel a connection to the community. And while I may not be traveling the world, I’m driving further than I thought I could because of the containers waiting for me just outside of my comfort zone. With geocaching, I’m not just playing around. I’m finding ways to grow. And that’s the best hidden treasure I could ask for!

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Thinkstock image by Ivanko_Brnjakovic

Originally published: September 23, 2017
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