Boy maps his life from disabled to designer

Boy maps his life from disabled to designer

Boy maps his life from disabled to designer

The toy cars, double-deckers, stuffed toys and pillows on his bed are meticulously ordered into neat rows, but Matej Hosek still inspects his room with a frown, looking for shortcomings.

He pushes one car back by a millimetre with satisfaction, then opens a folder with dozens of transport maps he has drawn as part of his battle with autism.

Diagnosed with severe Asperger syndrome, the 13-year-old bespectacled boy has found peace and order in sophisticated maps of his own making.

Not only that -- they have also turned him into a fashion designer of sorts.

"I guess this is something God has given him in exchange for what he has taken away from him," says Matej's mother Michaela Hoskova.

Matej was a noisy child, "crying 23 hours a day," she says, recalling their life in a Prague block of flats where neighbours regularly banged on their walls or, worse, left scratches on their cars.

The family, which includes Matej's little sister Sofia, moved to a house in Cernosice, a small town just southwest of Prague, where Matej "could cry as loud as he wished". Then he discovered maps.

"People used to kick us out of trams because he was yelling all the time. Then one day, on a tram, I gave him a map to read, I don't even know where I got it. And he calmed down," says Hoskova.

Matej started to ask for tram and underground rides to check if the transport maps were correct. He started to copy maps, including his favourite, the London Underground, which he knows by heart, before drawing his own.

Picking Cardiff off a map of Britain for its cool name, Matej drew an imaginary underground for the Welsh capital. Other cities followed, and the metro plans improved. "With some cities, he said their system had no logic so he started to re-draw the plans," says Hoskova, a former journalist.

The family's life began to change as Matej's condition improved -- they started to go on holidays, which was unthinkable when he was small. "We always go to the information centre first. We need maps," chuckled Hoskova.

Officially diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at age 10, Matej gradually started coming to terms with his condition. "Children with Asperger syndrome have a problem with verbal communication. When they see things in a picture, they become easier to understand," says Lenka Michalikova, an adviser to autistic people.

"Structure and visualisation serve as an anchor in their uncertainty. They offer predictability, a clue." Grappling with depression and anxiety since puberty, Matej needs an assistant at school but his results are above-average. When he moved from fourth grade to fifth and had to go to different classrooms, he struggled -- until he drew a map of the school.


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