Friday, June 15, 2012

Somewhere Closer To Normal

I just returned home from what would be an uneventful trip for most, on the subway to Soho (in Manhattan) and back. For me it was a glimpse into the life of a person without Prosoganosia (PA) and Topographical Disorientation (TD).
I have a service dog named Reykjavik, who for the last few years has been helping me cope with these two neurological disorders. Until recently, I had not been utilizing the full extent of his capabilities, because I was uncomfortable letting others know I had these disabilities. I did not tell anyone, and I never would have allowed Reykjavik to be thought of as a service dog, let alone wear any indication of such.
Now that I have decided to "come out" about all this, and embrace the use of a service dog, my world is changing dramatically. Today, Reykjavik and I took our second trip on the subway, from our home in Dumbo, into Manhattan. Riding the subway is a new skill for him, which he is learning rapidly. We are doing this once a week, for appointments and such.

Today we went with our friend N, to visit her physical therapist in Soho. This is a place where I have gone (always alone) for 12-20 visits over a period of a couple months, for the last 2-3 years for my own physical therapy. It's a place I got lost in continually - a maze of twists and turns on each floor, common in these old buildings on Broadway. We dropped N off, and as soon we were out the door of the PT's office, Reykjavik without pause led us directly back to the correct elevator bank (N told me today that there was more than one. I did not realize this before today because no pathway ever looks familiar to me. I just assumed I had always been coming in the same way, but had not.) There was not one wrong turn or backtrack made, as per my usual route.
We took the elevator down to the street(see picture of big dog in small elevator), exited the building and after some consideration on my part, turned right to enter a building 2-3 doors down where our good friend TBG had recently started working. I had promised her a visit. She had told me she worked on the 12th floor, so without looking for an office number we headed up in the elevator. We exited on the 12th floor, and I decided instead of texting her for suite number, I would just ask Reykjavik to find her. She is his godmother, so he knows her scent very well. This building was even more maze - like than the last, because the floor was bigger. Reykjavik started off one way, lost the scent, then turned around and headed back and right to her office. Once inside the big open room, which normally would have been a nightmare for me, with it's many desks and similar looking people, I just waited for him to find her, her to find him

(see picture of Reykjavik posing with a Flavorpill employee). So much less stress than normal. Once again when we left, he returned right to the elevator to head down.
We walked to a shop not far away, with me using my phone's gps and google maps for directions (to a store I had been to numerous times before). When we left there, I asked him to "take me back", and he took me right to the same subway station we had exited upon our arrival, though via a slightly different route, instead of precisely retracing our steps.
We waited for N to finish her appointment, then went down in the station to catch the subway back to DUMBO.

And just like that, we were home. We had gone to visit two different offices, with no premapping, and almost no wrong turns, no wandering in the wrong hallway, no asking people for directions, most of all, no stress about getting lost or not recognizing someone! It was so freeing not to have to concentrate on every step and turn, to have a measure of ease and assurity while moving about with the dog to correct, lead, or return me. To be fair, in the beginning of the trip, we had N to lead us to the physical therapy office. What Reykjavik does best is "take me back" or "take me home". And that is all he did today. And these were all small difficulties that he aided me on. Yet to me, it's a glimpse into the life of a NT, or neurotypical person.
- Posted from somewhere near my dog



Brynhildur Jonsdottir said...

Thank you for this post, very informative for people studying this condition.

Ashmire said...

Following the death from extreme old age of my beloved Border Collie, Asta, I am hoping to soon adopt a dog which would primarily be an emotional support or companion animal, however I am definitely intrigued at the notion of a prosopagnosia service dog---I obviously don't have to tell you what an inconvenience that condition is! However there is little information on this available so I would love to hear more about how such a dog is trained, what it does, etc.

I have always trained all my dogs, even the toy poodle I had when I was 10, to "go find" particular people and was surprised that this seems to be considered a service dog task (perhaps I never considered or recognized how much less valuable that skill is to other people).

Is that all there is to it or can they spontaneously alert you to the presence of people you know as well?