Navigating Love and Autism
On a day early this month, before their planned trip to the animal shelter, Kirsten and Jack stood before a group of young adults with autism at the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support in Philadelphia, answering their questions while Jack’s father addressed their parents in a different room. “Did you ever think you would be alone?” one teenager wanted to know.
Kirsten answered first. “I thought I was going to be alone forever,” she said. “Kids who picked on me said I was so ugly I’m going to die alone.”
Her blunt tip on dating success: “A lot of it is how you dress. I found people don’t flirt with me if I wear big man pants and a rainbow sweatshirt.”
Then it was Jack’s turn to answer, in classic Aspie style. “I think I sort of lucked out,” he said. “I have no doubt if I wasn’t dating Kirsten I would have a very hard time acquiring a girlfriend that was worthwhile.”
A mother who had slipped into the room put up her hand.
“Where do you guys see your relationship going in the future?” she asked. “No pressure.”
Kirsten looked at Jack. “You go first,” she said.
“I see it going along the way it is for the foreseeable future,” Jack said.
One of the teenagers hummed the Wedding March.
“So I guess you’re saying, there is hope in the future for longer relationships,” the mother pressed.
Kirsten gazed around the room. A few other adults had crowded in.
“Parents always ask, ‘Who would like to marry my kid? They’re so weird,’ ” she said. “But, like, another weird person, that’s who.”
The next morning, Kirsten woke up from a nightmare: they were late to get the cat, and she couldn’t reach Jack. She was riding a motorbike with pedals in weird places, and she couldn’t find the animal shelter.
In fact, they would have just enough time to reach the shelter before it closed after getting breakfast and buying a laser pointer with a lower-intensity red beam than his green one to test the prospective adoptees. In the car, Kirsten noticed a blinking “E” on the gas gauge, and the couple had the following exchange:
Kirsten: Oh, we need to get gas. Do you want to stop at the 7-Eleven?
Jack: No, we’ll stop on the way back.
Kirsten: How can you not get stressed when that thing is blinking?
Jack: I’m not intimidated by liquid crystal displays.
Kirsten: You know what I mean, you get anxious about everything.
Jack: I know we have at least 20 miles of gas.
Kirsten: We have to drive seven miles there, and then seven back.
Jack: No, we have three miles back.
Kirsten: Should we just stop at 7-Eleven?
Both of them breathed a sigh of relief when the only female kitten at the shelter pounced without hesitation on the red laser beam Jack shined into her cage. At home, however, she ran straight under the old-fashioned bathtub.
Jack bent down and scooped up the kitten, holding her up to the mirror above the sink. Kirsten stroked her black fur in his arms, their hands touching briefly across the kitten’s back, and in the reflection.
“Are you looking at yourself in the mirror?” Jack asked the kitten. “Are you smart enough to recognize yourself?”
They stood for a moment together, awaiting the reaction. http://www.nytimes.com/