Today Ryo Kiyan would have been 51 years old. He was born in New York City at a little past midnight during a bus strike. To reach the hospital, I would have had to take three subways. Instead I waited in pouring rain for a taxi. It was rush hour, and office workers were grabbing every taxi that came along. Well-dressed people elbowed me aside even though I was obviously about to give birth. Finally a driver noticed my condition, actually refused an executive-type woman, and took me instead. Bless that driver.
Ryo was a forceps baby. I read somewhere that that can be a factor in Asperger’s syndrome. I don’t know if it’s true, but when I put the question recently to a psychiatrist, he didn’t deny it.
From the beginning, Ryo was shy. I was, too, so it seemed natural that he would have inherited that trait. No one thought of Asperger’s, which didn’t have a name until decades later. (Now it doesn’t anymore. They’ve decided to lump it in with autism, or call it social disability.) In his forties Ryo diagnosed himself, and then got a formal diagnosis. At that point he unearthed an old report from the nursery school he attended at ages 3 and 4. The report described how he kept to himself and would become absorbed in solitary activities. I wish I could remember the exact wording. All I know is, Ryo was amazed at how close it came to autism.
At age five he entered public school kindergarten, after a lengthy teachers’ strike. He’d been introduced to his classroom and teacher, so he knew where to go. On the first day of classes, with a younger child and a dog in tow, I took him to the kindergarten door but didn’t enter the building. My mistake. When I went to pick him up at noon, the teacher told me he’d been standing hidden just outside the classroom for more than an hour before she noticed him. Gradually he did get used to public school and even made a few friends.
Still, peculiarities continued to plague him. In second grade he got into trouble for repeatedly slapping his pencil case on the edge of his desk. That would appear to be an autistic trait, probably a stress-relieving mechanism. The next year, after lunch at home and being returned to school, he came running back home to say he couldn’t find his class. It turned out they were all in the auditorium hearing a performance of “Tubby the Tuba.” This was explained to the class before lunch, but in his Aspergian way he tuned out and missed the announcement.
These days there’s a lot more awareness of autism and even of the downgraded Asperger’s. Although renamed, Asperger’s still exists, whatever they choose to call it. All through this blog I’ve been trying to make the point that Aspies are different. They think and feel differently from neurotypicals. What might seem one way to a typical person might be viewed and experienced entirely differently by an Aspie. This is something that was not taken into account at Ryo’s job with the Sullivan County Division of Planning or by Miss Mall, who accused him of stalking her. He said he told her and his other coworkers that he had Asperger’s, but either they didn’t understand what that was all about, or they didn’t care.
The same holds true among some of my readers, who don’t seem to grasp what I’m trying to put across. Their comments imply that Ryo got what he deserved for stalking that poor girl, that she was quite justified in being afraid because all weird people are dangerous. It’s true, a lot of people are dangerous, but Aspies very rarely are. Ryo never was a threat to her, or had any malicious intentions whatsoever. Obviously the two weren’t nearly as well acquainted as he thought, if she mistrusted him to the extent of being terrified. It’s my feeling—and I’ll admit to some bias—that if Miss Mall, her coworkers, and the Sullivan County officials had been more knowledgeable, or perhaps less rigid and narrow-minded, Ryo might well be alive today, on his birthday.
Not long ago, one reader did understand, and left a comment so perfect that I can’t help reproducing it:
“What this story really illustrates is how a simple misunderstanding between two people from different “cultures” (Ryo, an aspie and Ms. Mall, a neurotypical), can escalate into tragedy. Everyone has heard the expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and here is an example. Ryo was behaving in a fashion that, to him, was perfectly proper. He was trying to make amends for the offense that his past actions had inadvertently caused. He did not see himself as a stalker. His co-worker, coming from a different perspective, felt threatened. From her point of view, men that persist in trying to speak to a woman after they have been told to stop, have bad intentions. The real shame is that this whole episode was “criminalized” whereas a process of mediation might have brought the two parties together and advanced the understanding of both.
You said it better than I did. Thank you, thank you. Ryo himself thought a simple mediation would have explained everything to all parties. Unfortunately, the county officials wanted to do it their way, at great expense to the county.
Note: Throughout this blog I have occasionally mentioned a young adult novel I was writing, a mystery with a subplot inspired by Ryo’s case. At first its title was The Revengers. That has been changed to Twenty Minute Late, and it’s scheduled for release on May 26, in both print and electronic format, from Fire and Ice (fireandiceya.com), the young adult imprint of Melange Books. I am hard at work now on a sequel.