March 13, 2012
Fifty years ago today, James Ryo Kiyan was born. He was first named Crane Ryo Kiyabu, but changed it to suit himself when he reached college age.
n some ways, Ryo never grew up. Although brilliant of intellect, he always had a rather childlike naïveté and a puckish sense of humor. He also had Asperger’s syndrome, which no one knew until he was well into adulthood. No one, in fact, even knew the term before about 1980. Only gradually did any awareness of it reach the general public. Even now, most people have a poor, if any, understanding of what it entails and what it feels like. That ignorance proved to be Ryo’s downfall.
Ryo had a tough time growing up. Who doesn’t? But in New York City, at Stuyvesant High School and later at Grinnell College, there were enough bright and unusual young people so that he had friends who understood and appreciated him.
Adulthood found him unsure what to do with his life. His work record was spotty and unremarkable. Only in his forties did he realize that his lifelong interest in maps could become a career. For several years he studied mapmaking and geography, and landed a job with the Sullivan County (NY) Division of Planning and Environmental Management.
He was happy at last. He made several friends and enjoyed the work. He kept at it steadily through a bout with cancer, not wanting to jeopardize his job.
And then came Miss M. She was attractive. And single. And shared many of Ryo’s interests and concerns.
Those with Asperger’s have a famously hard time seeing into other people. Ryo assumed that he and Miss M had a promising friendship. She may have had issues and problems that he couldn’t fathom. Who, for instance, would feel uncomfortable when someone looks at the books in her apartment? According to her testimony at Ryo’s hearing, this was when she began to have doubts about him. Because he looked at the books in her apartment.
Unaware of her reaction to the book-looking episode, he proposed another get-together, this time a dinner at her apartment, which he would prepare, and a rented movie. He couldn’t make it at his place because, at the time, he was living with his mother and that would be ridiculous.
Miss M was shocked and horrified. He couldn’t miss that reaction, and immediately apologized for what he took to be an “inappropriate” suggestion. She turned such a cold shoulder that he had to keep apologizing, begging her to understand that he knew it was inappropriate, he was sorry, it would never happen again, and he hoped they could still be friends. Her refusal to discuss the matter caused him further anguish. He had to make her understand that he was not a bad person. He did not want to lose her as a friend. He hadn’t many of those and he truly admired her. He even admitted to having an “untenable” crush.
She, in turn, saw him as a stalker and began carrying a knife and pepper spray. She complained to the Division’s management and they ordered him to back off. He tried, but he still needed to be assured of her good opinion. With his Asperger’s, he had no clue that she was now terrified of him. He never thought of himself as a terrifying person. He was a little boy in danger of losing his best friend.
She and management had no clue as to the working of his mind. He told them he had Asperger’s but they were totally ignorant as to what that meant in terms of a person’s outlook, thoughts, and reactions. They expected that his mind should work exactly like theirs even though it was wired differently.
That is why there is No Justice for Aspies, the overall theme of this blog.
It’s understandable that they should be protective of her. Men can do a lot of damage to women if things get out of hand.
Conversely, a woman can be equally dangerous to men, often in more subtle, less physical ways. Especially to a vulnerable man with Asperger’s and a childlike naïveté that often comes with Asperger’s. Ryo never lacked for brains, but this was not a cerebral matter. People with Asperger’s can be extremely brilliant and often are. What they don’t have is insight into other people and sometimes insight into themselves. Despite the warnings from management and rejections from Miss M, Ryo had no clear idea of what was going on until his world collapsed around him, leading ultimately to his death.
Just before he died, Ryo wrote the following note, which was found with his body:
You hear a lot of talk about “community” these days but it’s just an empty buzzword. People who are having a tough time expressing themselves to the people whom they admire and count on shouldn’t be denigrated and trashed and expected to fend for themselves.