Oh, the Terror of It All

A few days ago my daughter brought home a long-time friend, named Craig. There was obviously something different about him. He talked in a monotone and was stiffly polite. He also remembered having met me at my daughter’s wedding eleven years ago.

I thought she must have mentioned it to him: “You met my mom, etc. . .” It turns out she hadn’t. He remembered me and everyone else who was there. I’m told he probably remembered what color clothes they had on, and other details as well.

Do you recall the scene in Rainman when Dustin Hoffman sees a pile of toothpicks on the floor and can tell at a glance how many are in that pile? His character, Raymond, was what is known as an autistic savant. Raymond’s brain worked in ways that a neurotypical person (NT) can’t begin to imagine. How do such people see things? How do they process what they see?

At one time, Raymond would have been labeled an “idiot savant.” You can forget the “idiot.” It’s true, he would have had trouble living on his own and doing many of the things a typical person can do. But in exchange, he could do many things an NT can’t do. Rather than deficient, Raymond was—well, different. In his book The Myriad Gifts of Asperger’s Syndrome, John M. Ortiz, Ph.D., an expert in the field, cites examples similar to, and some even more extraordinary, than the fictional one in the movie.

Dr. Hans Asperger, whose name was given to the syndrome, recognized that those gifts could be of value to the rest of society, if people would get past their prejudices and realize that there is nothing wrong with being different. The only thing that makes neurotypicals “typical” is that they are in the majority. What if it were the other way around?

Because of that prejudice, James Ryo Kiyan, a cartographer with Sullivan County’s Division of Planning and the protagonist of this blog, lost his entire future. It was a promising future and his work was often praised. Still, he had a few peculiarities that made a young woman “uncomfortable.” What was worse, he failed to understand that his persistence in trying to make peace with her only exacerbated that discomfort.

Her feeling seems to have arisen when Ryo had the nerve to look at the books in her apartment, a rather idle activity that he considered natural and normal. She, apparently, did not, and said herself that it made her “uncomfortable.” Thus began the downturn in what Ryo saw as a pleasant friendship. In his anguished determination to have her think well of him, as an Aspie he failed to understand her point of view. And so, instead of healing the breach, he only dug himself into a hole from which there was no recovery. One might argue that he did it to himself. That would be ignoring the fact of his Asperger’s and the entirely different perception that goes with it. It was his feeling at the time that the county wanted to be rid of him simply because he was an oddball.

What followed might have been avoided if someone had had the wits and compassion to get Ryo and Miss M together and help bring about a mutual understanding. That would have eased Miss M’s fears, saved a man with much potential from utter destruction, and also saved the county considerable expense. But the bureaucratic mentality superseded common sense and the juggernaut rolled on.

Aside from ignorance, prejudice, and a basic lack of creative thinking, another factor in the case of Sullivan County vs. James Ryo Kiyan may have been Miss M’s family connections within the county’s law enforcement structure. Her father was a retired state trooper and a good friend of the county sheriff.

Then, too—and this is only a guess—something may have been going on with Miss M herself, something that wasn’t supposed to be made public. Several things led me to wonder about this. I never did learn the reason why defense attorney Michael Sussman declined to submit Ryo’s diagnosis of Asperger’s to the person who was scheduled to hear the case against him. What was the point in going through all those tests and interviews—which cost Ryo a bundle—if the results were not to be used?

I was startled when, at a session of the hearing, Miss M revealed that in her terror at Ryo’s persistence, she had taken to carrying a knife and pepper spray. As I recall, she said it under oath. When we broke for lunch that day, I asked Sussman, “I thought it was illegal to carry a concealed weapon. Or does that only mean firearms?”

He made a shushing motion with both hands, as if I had said something compromising. No one else was in earshot except for Ryo and a few totally uninterested Chinese waiters. So why, I wondered, the shushing? It was his only response. I never did get an answer and couldn’t help developing my own theory, based partly on the fact that Sussman and the Sullivan County attorney were friends. It seemed like a kind of coverup. From the beginning, my family had wondered at Miss M’s extreme reaction. I remember someone saying, “They may know something about her.

Apparently the discomfort began when he looked at the books on her shelf. That discomfort caused her to turn away from him, which caused him to try to mend whatever rift there was, which caused the rift to grow wider, and so it went, right up to his suspension in May of 2009. (See earlier posts for more details.)

The hearing took place at the end of August and ran into early September. Finally, in December of that year, the hearing officer, Lynda Levine, Esq., was ready with her recommendation.

2 thoughts on “Oh, the Terror of It All

  1. This is an amazing, compelling piece of writing about a subject near to my heart: I teach children with autism and aspergers, and know first hand what social communication difficulties can mean for relationships. Our young adults with Asperger’s have so much to offer, and when one gets past he social communiciation barriers – which can make others feel uncomfortable- we can learn so much.Thank you for this insightful post.

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