Bad Mother

No sooner had I published my next to last post (the last one dealt with mesothelioma, not with Asperger’s), than I received another comment. This time they took issue, not with the post, not with Ryo, but with me. For not teaching him better.

In that post I bemoaned the fact that I had not gotten my message across. The comment showed that I still hadn’t.

The comment was the usual criticism that Ryo had done wrong and if he had one quarter of a brain he could have figured out that he was doing wrong. Or at least have been able to agree with his accusers that he was wrong in pursuing Miss M.

Ryo had an IQ in the genius range, but with a big disadvantage in a neurotypical world. It was not a neurotypical brain. It just plain worked differently from what neurotypicals are used to.

For most of his life he didn’t realize this problem. In the beginning, he didn’t even know he was different. When he caught onto that, he still didn’t know how or why. Nobody had heard of Asperger’s until about the time Ryo reached adulthood. One psychiatrist somewhere along the way happened to mention that Ryo had some autistic traits, but even the good doctor didn’t know how it all added up.

Ryo knew he had Asperger’s before I did. I had never heard the term until he diagnosed himself. I did know he fancied Miss M but that was all I knew about it until the whole thing blew up. After all, it was between him and Miss M. It didn’t concern me, so he didn’t talk about it or ask my advice. He simply proceeded on his way, believing he was right and it was the other people who didn’t understand.

Recently I came across a copy he had given me of a letter he wrote to the woman who was to conduct the hearing they planned for this case. The full letter runs to three pages. I am reproducing only sections of it here.

“I came to realize that my relations had been damaged not only with Miss M but also with H and J, two people whom I held in the highest regard and whom I thought of as friends. Over the next several weeks, I alternated between deep despondency about my ruined relations with my three coworkers and a hope that I could win back their esteem and trust.

“Toward the end of March, EC sent around a notice about an upcoming concert. As he had done on one or two prior occasions, he addressed the email to an exclusive group consisting only of J, H, Miss M, and me. I was at once honored to be counted as part of such an exclusive and estimable club, and guilty that I was the reason it was essentially a lie. I also felt bad about the possibility that Miss M’s lingering uneasiness about me might hinder her full social integration into “our gang.” Prior to the troubles, I had noticed that Miss M kept to herself and rarely, if ever, joined coworkers for lunch or walks. I attributed this to shyness and perhaps to financial difficulties, but assumed that with time it would change. But now I worried that I myself, because of my terrible behavior a few weeks earlier, was an obstacle to the development of Miss M’s social bonds with her coworkers. I therefore decided it was time to break the ice, and made a gesture that would demonstrate my belief that she could function as part of the same social group to which we both seemed to belong.

“Of course, it is now quite evident that she—and everyone else—felt that the communications of late March were a continuation of the earlier behavior. To my mind, it was different because my earlier correspondence had been needy and desperate, begging for a dialogue to work out an apparent misunderstanding. Now I was proceeding from the observation that I had screwed things up so badly that all I could do was start over from scratch and let my coworkers know that I had nothing but positive feelings and was looking forward to building friendships.”

To a much earlier post on the same topic, I received the following comment:

What this story really illustrates is how a simple misunderstanding between two people from different “cultures” (Ryo, an aspie and Ms. M, 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.

Not only did Ryo not understand, he never thought things were as bad as they were. All during his suspension and the trial, he talked about “When I get my job back . . .”

In the end, he didn’t get it back. Instead he lost it completely. This left him jobless and still confused as to exactly what happened. How could his hopes, his whole future, be wiped away so easily?

He spent a year looking for another job. He traveled to Washington, DC, thinking he would do better there. But the U.S. was in a recession, and he had left his previous job under the cloud of “sexual harassment.” There was no one to write a glowing recommendation for him.

Finally he gave it all up and took his life.

Writing about Asperger’s and Other Things

There are reasons why it’s been a long time since I last posted:

1) I was busy starting my next novel in the Revengers series, and

2) I couldn’t think of anything to say.

I’ve had some comments from readers who still can’t understand why Ryo Kiyan persisted in what was perceived as “stalking” after he was told by the higher ups and by Miss M herself to leave her alone.

What they don’t seem to understand is how the Asperger mind works. He did tell them at his workplace that he had Asperger’s. Probably they discounted it since, on the whole, his behavior seemed relatively normal.

But Asperger’s is different. It is not normal by neurotypical standards. What Ryo did, according to his thinking, was quite normal. He wanted Miss M to understand and to like him. She, on the other hand, didn’t want to talk to him. Those with Asperger’s have a hard time getting into other people’s minds and motives. He thought if she would only talk, they could straighten it all out. And so he persisted.

At this point I’ll have to admit that Ryo had a very stubborn streak. When he persisted, he really persisted. And thought he was right to do so.

Because so few people understand the Asperger mind and/or give it much credence, I started this blog with the hope of explaining things to the neurotypical world.

I also began my fictional Revenger series for the same reason. I wanted to tell the story of what happened to Ryo but I put it in a high school setting. That in itself didn’t make enough of a book, so I added a mystery plot which quite intentionally became the main focus of the novel. The Asperger thing was a subplot. In the end, those two plots came together. The title of that first book is Twenty Minutes Late.

In that book, which was written in the third person, I had some scenes from Ben’s (the Asperger character’s) point of view, showing how he felt and reacted to what happened.

In the second book of the series, The Long Sleep, written in the first person from the heroine’s point of view, Ben appears as a character but does nothing particularly Aspergian.

In the third book, Under Cover, again told in first person from another heroine’s viewpoint, Ben is again a major character and some of the things he does are quite Aspergian.

The fourth book, Blackout, is finished but not yet in production. This one is told from a mixed viewpoint, with first person for one character and third for the others, especially the main one, Kelsey Fritz. She’s the girl who got Ben in trouble in Twenty Minutes Late, because he persisted too hard in wanting to talk to her. In this book Ben finally goes off to MIT. Cree, the girlfriend he leaves behind, is sure he’ll meet some glamorous geek and forget all about her.

I am now writing the fifth book of the series. In it, Cree Penny, one of my two regular heroines, makes a startling discovery.

How do we write about Asperger’s syndrome? First of all, I was close to Ryo, although I had no idea he had Asperger’s until he diagnosed it himself. Before that, I had never even heard of it. But I did notice his behavior at times and his reactions at times. He often told me what he was thinking. But other times he kept it to himself.

After figuring out that he had Asperger’s, he got a formal diagnosis. And I began reading.

Numerous books are available, some of them written by people with Asperger’s themselves. There is, for instance, Asperger’s from the Inside Out, by Michael Carley. And Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20⅓ Chapters by Jesse A. Saperstein. And many others.

Also, I have a few Asperger traits myself. I am sure my mother did. So Ryo came by it honestly.

If you are the least bit curious about the Revenger series, check out my website at carolinecrane.com. There, the books are described more fully and the first chapter of at least one appears in toto. The titles are available at Amazon, both as physical books and in electronic form for Kindle. (The Kindle ones are cheaper.) They can also be purchased from the publisher, fireandiceya.com/ The ya in that name stands for young adult.

Happy reading!

A Web Site

Recently a friend steered me to a Facebook page with the title ASPERGER SYNDROME AWARENESS. Of course I was already aware of Asperger Syndrome, but this site spelled out many things very clearly. I found it fascinating.

It’s a place where Aspies and their friends and relatives can ask questions, find answers and other information, or simply post comments. New material is added every day. Along with the posts are “posters” that are informative and in many cases inspirational.

The posters offer such messages as:  Awareness leads to understanding      Understanding leads to acceptance      Keep moving forward. That was by Stuart Duncan.

Another was a quotation from Dr. Temple Grandin: “Different . . . not less.” She should know.

And from Autism Spectrum Disorder: “I thought I would have to teach my child about the world. It turns out I have to teach the world about my child.” How true.

Another poster reads: “Autism: Don’t assume you know what it is because it probably isn’t what you think.”

Yet another enumerates “10 Amazing Life Lessons You Can Learn from Albert Einstein.” I won’t list them here but one of them had to do with Focus. It is well known that Aspies have an extraordinary ability to focus on details that aren’t apparent to other people. This makes them especially valuable for handling certain types of endeavor.

According to this site, the best Asperger book ever is THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO ASPERGER SYNDROME by Tony Atwood. He is perhaps the world’s most renowned expert on Asperger’s.

Another highly recommended read is RAISING MARTIANS FROM CRASH-LANDING TO LEAVING HOME: HOW TO HELP A CHILD WITH ASPERGER’S SYNDROME OR HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISM by John Muggleton.

If the title seems cute and fanciful, it is an honest reflection of how truly different Aspies are from “regular” persons, or NTs (neurotypicals). Many people have trouble grasping the depth of that difference. Since Aspies look like everyone else, people expect them to be like everyone else and to understand how the rest of us think. That’s too much to ask. An Aspie can’t put himself in your shoes any more than you can put yourself in his.

The second time I looked at that site, someone had posted a video that tried to show the difference between Aspies and others. The first half of it was a walk down the sidewalk by a neurotypical. With buildings on one side and parked cars on the other, the scenery was so ordinary that one didn’t even think about it.

Then suddenly we transition to how an Aspie would experience the same walk. The first thing you notice is the intense brightness. That’s because many Aspies are sensitive to light. It’s part of their sensory overload. That overload goes for other senses as well, such as smells and loud noises. The video gives us a jumble of sounds all mushed together. An Aspie has trouble filtering out what’s relevant, and can be quite overwhelmed by the cacophony.

And don’t forget fluorescent lights. Most neurotypicals aren’t even aware that they flicker. For many Aspies, that flickering can be painful. Another thing the video points out is all the little details, such as a discarded cigarette butt, that can prove distracting to an Aspie, but which an NT wouldn’t notice.

Some of the posts ask for, or offer, help with frequent Aspie problems, especially the social ones. A parent wrote about what a joy her two daughters are, adding, “But like many Aspies [they] struggle with friendships.”

Another reads: “I have Asperger’s and it’s tough . . . I have trouble picking up on social cues and I take things very personally, whenever I go to parties. I feel like I don’t belong. If I didn’t have Asperger’s I wouldn’t be the great drummer that I am, but I could pick up social cues and start actually getting a girlfriend. With Asperger’s I’m a great musician but lousy at parties.”

And yet another: “I love this page and support it wholeheartedly. I have a brother with autism and the ignorance surrounding autism is astounding.”

That ignorance can cause huge problems. Aspies simply aren’t what other people expect them to be. As I began this blog, I referred to several Aspies who were fired from their jobs because they made other people “uncomfortable.” They’re just different. Those differences can often cause them to be bullied. In my novel TWENTY MINUTES LATE and its sequels, the Aspie hero, Ben Canfield, still bears scars on his arm from when he was pushed off his bike by bullies at the age of 11. Although fiction, that is not far-fetched.

In past posts I’ve mentioned Jesse Saperstein, the author of ATYPICAL: LIFE WITH ASPERGER’S IN 20⅓ CHAPTERS. Jesse says that, growing up, he was bullied all the time. Along with being told he would never amount to anything, would never have a girlfriend or be accepted and respected, he was informed that whatever abuse he suffered was self-inflicted.

According to statistics, 94% of children with a diagnosis of Asperger’s have, at one time or another, or in some cases all the time, faced bullying. Jesse talks about that in a video he made in which he discusses his own experience of being different from the norm. “People were scared of me,” he says. Indeed, people tend to be afraid of those who are different from what they’re used to. That reaction is known as xenophobia.

The video Jesse made is titled FREE-FALLING TO END BULLYING IN 2012. It’s on YouTube. While it probably didn’t end bullying completely—people do enjoy the sense of power they get from tormenting others—it’s a masterful film. Several autistic people are interviewed about their experience with bullies. One of them is Dr. Temple Grandin who asserts that “high school was absolutely the worst part of my life.”

Jesse contrasts the powerlessness of being bullied with the freedom of flying that comes from skydiving. He and several others jump out of a plane and float to earth. That freedom is symbolic of how life could and should be lived if only other people would cease their persecution.

Asperger’s and Violence

The shooting last month at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was so incredibly tragic, so incomprehensible, that it generated much talk about motive. And much of that talk centered on Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s is a form of autism. It causes the brain to work differently from that of people who don’t have the condition.  Those people are referred to as “neurotypicals.” Because they are in the majority, their brains are considered “typical.”

There were conflicting reports as to whether Adam Lanza, the shooter, had a formal diagnosis of Asperger’s, or whether it was speculation based on his reticent, nonsocial manner. In any case, he was definitely an oddball.

One can’t help being grateful to the media for running articles, essays, interviews, and blogs all pointing out that there is no connection between autism and violent behavior. Obviously Lanza had a multitude of problems, some of which led to his final, horrible act. But it wasn’t due to Asperger’s.

Oddball does not equal violence, which is something many, if not most, people don’t understand. This blog, whose overall theme is “No Justice for Aspies,” was inspired by the fate of James Ryo Kiyan. Unknowingly and unintentionally, Ryo harassed a coworker until he lost his job and ultimately his life, all due to a lack of understanding (including his own) about autism.

There is nothing wrong with an Asperger brain; it’s just different. Ryo had an IQ in the genius range, and was frustrated because he didn’t know what to do with it. His goals changed constantly and led nowhere. At college his goofy sense of humor was appreciated and enjoyed. After those days ended, he had almost no friends and no lasting relationships

He was in his forties when he realized his passion for maps. With that, he spent several years studying for a career in the field. It was a fairly new technology that made use of computers and satellites. Finally prepared, he landed the first job he applied for, with the Sullivan County (N.Y.) Division of Planning and Environmental Research. At last, after several decades wasted, he was on his way. He even had a few friends, or people he thought were friends. For the first time since college, he felt happy and fulfilled.

And then he ran afoul of the neurotypical world. For those who have followed this blog since its beginning, this is all a recap. To keep it short, Ryo thought he had a friend in a coworker, Miss Mall. He even dared think it might someday go beyond friendship. To Miss Mall, he was only a colleague, older than she, a little bit odd, and any relationship was far from her mind.

It’s true that he made a nuisance of himself. In his Aspergerian way he thought their friendship was more than it was. Being socially impaired, Aspies don’t see things as other people do.

It all began with his search for an apartment. Miss Mall offered to help and the two had lunch together. He enjoyed her company and planned what he thought would be a pleasant follow-up. It had to take place at her apartment because he shared a home with his mother. He offered to rent a movie and cook a meal at Mall’s place.

He could see at once that the idea appalled her. What she thought he intended, we don’t know. She may already have been leery of him because, as a person with Asperger’s, he was “different.” She told the authorities that she felt “uncomfortable” when Ryo looked at the books in her apartment. To most of us that would seem a non-threatening activity. It’s likely that she already felt uncomfortable because he was “different,” and she did not know what to expect from someone who was “different.”

He, being autistic and therefore socially awkward, could not relate to her view of things, or have a clue as to what went on in her mind. All he wanted was a friend. He kept after her, trying to apologize for his offer, which he acknowledged was inappropriate, at least in her eyes. He understood that much. He wanted her to understand that he understood, and he wanted to keep the friendship that he thought existed. She, in turn, wanted to keep things “professional.” In other words she wanted nothing more to do with him socially, but couldn’t say it. People with Asperger’s are not into nuances and euphemisms. They need things spelled out—or, as one therapist put it, “clear and concrete.”

Because it wasn’t put clearly and concretely, he continued in his effort to mend the fence, to explain that he meant no harm. Instead, his persistence itself made her feel threatened. She began carrying a knife and pepper spray and took her complaint to the powers that be. They, with their own lack of understanding as to the nature of autism, first suspended him for several weeks, then put him on trial, and finally dismissed him from the work he loved.

As Ryo himself said later, a simple mediation session would have explained everything to both sides, thereby ending the problem and saving the county much time and money. He suspected they really just wanted to be rid of him because he was “different.” In an earlier post I quoted Ryo’s cousin, Sharleen Inouye, who saw that difference in a more positive light: “His reality was different from the norm, but that was what made him unique.”

In that statement, Sharleen sums up the essence of autism: His reality was different from the norm . . . That is something most neurotypicals don’t grasp, along with the fact that a different reality does not automatically add up to violence. The frustrations of being autistic can sometimes result in explosions of anger, but it’s the quiet, sneaky, normal-appearing sociopaths who are far more likely to hurt someone. That has nothing to do with autism.

Ryo spent a year trying to find another job. In despair that he would ever lead a normal existence, he finally gave up and ended his life.

Recently I came across a quote by John T. Maltsberger, M.D.: “There’s no suffering greater than that which drives people to suicide; suicide defines the moment in which mental pain exceeds the human capacity to bear it. It represents the abandonment of hope.”

The only violence was to himself, because he had lost all hope. Even then, he chose a quiet way out.

One-Sided

Originally I meant this post to follow on the heels of the previous one, as something of an explanation. Various activities, such as income tax, got in the way. I have also been doing a final edit on my novel The Revengers, which was inspired by the case of Ryo Kiyan and the wall of misunderstanding between the world of Asperger’s syndrome and the neurotypical world.

It’s that wall and where it can lead that is the purpose of this blog and also of the novel. In the latter, Ben’s eagerness for friendship leads him to press too hard on Kelsey Fritz, who perceives that pressure as stalking, and consequently is terrified. Ben sees her terror as a misunderstanding of his intention, when all he wants is to make sure she understands that he has no evil intentions. And so it goes, spiraling into near-tragedy.

That is exactly what happened between Ryo and Miss Mall, although in that case the tragedy actually occurred. Miss Mall’s terror led to events that in the end caused Ryo to take his own life.

As I wrote the last post, I realized that the whole blog may strike readers as one-sided. Blogs, like most written material, are supposed to have a point of view. I did try to be broad-minded and see things from the other side, but this was difficult for two reasons: 1) I had no access to the other side, except to hear it spelled in dry legalese during four days of hearings, and 2) Ryo was living with me at the time, so I could follow all that happened from his point of view and how he felt about it. I could only try to imagine Miss Mall’s feeling of being stalked, although my own reaction would have been annoyance rather than terror. As I mentioned before, Miss Mall testified that she took to carrying a knife and pepper spray, and noting where he left his car before she would venture into the parking lot.

Ryo himself felt bad that Miss Mall was so frightened. Certainly he never meant to produce that effect. He only wanted to talk things over. Since they had been friends, he assumed she knew him well enough to understand that. Obviously she didn’t. Nor could he, being an Aspie, understand what was going on in her mind. Because Sullivan County chose to ignore the fact that he had Asperger’s syndrome, and/or was totally oblivious as to how it can affect a person’s thinking and perception, the ultimate result for Ryo, and for me, as his mother, was heartbreak.

Yes, it’s true that he took his own life. It was his decision. It’s also true that very few people make that decision lightly. He felt he had no future. He felt that the world was a rotten place and he just didn’t fit in. Although the events unfolded gradually, their outcome was a special shock because, after forty-plus years, he thought his life was finally coming together and making sense. He had a job he really enjoyed, and he had friends, especially one who seemed as compatible as Miss Mall.

Many Aspies I know have contemplated suicide—because they feel they don’t fit in. But there is room for them in this world, they have much to contribute, and it’s my hope that eventually more neurotypicals will come to understand that. As a character in The Revengers points out, “Just because a person is different doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him.”

An Invisible Disability

 

                                                                                                                                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.  

James Ryo Kiyan

 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.

 

Can you tell which of these people has Aspergers?

 

Afterglow

They told me my son was dead. I knew something must have happened. For days I hadn’t heard from him—no answers to my e-mails, no response to my phone calls. But when they told me he was dead, it didn’t seem real. Even now, almost a year later, it still doesn’t.

We had planned, my daughter and I, that I would move in with her once Ryo found a job and was settled somewhere. She took a week off from work to help me pack. Too fast, I thought. But there seemed no reason for delay. I was in a daze.

Someone needed to write an obituary. I had never been clear who did that sort of thing. Never thought about it. Obits simply appeared. It should be a family member, I supposed. I was the writer in the family. I had read enough obituaries and quickly turned out something trite and cliché-ridden. The following appeared in the Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record on October 21, 2010.

JAMES RYO KIYAN

March 13, 1962 – October 2, 2010

Wurtsboro, NY

James Ryo Kiyan, beloved son of Caroline Crane and the late Yoshio Kiyabu, passed away on October 2, 2010, in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

 Ryo was born in New York City and attended public schools, including the well-known Stuyvesant High School. At Grinnell College he earned a Bachelor’s degree in American history. After that, he worked in law offices in Chevy Chase, MD, and Los Angeles, CA, until he decided his real interest was in map-making. Returning to New York State, he earned a certificate in Geographic Information Systems technology at Ulster County Community College, then a second Bachelor’s degree in geography at SUNY New Paltz. His first and only job in that field was with the Planning Division of the Sullivan County government. Ryo had a brilliant mind but all his life was socially impaired by Asperger’s syndrome. He tried to make the best of it and kept on working at the most satisfying job he ever had, even through a bout of cancer and six grueling months of chemotherapy. He was successful in his work, and his maps can still be seen in various places in the county. In spite of his efforts, eventually he lost the job and was unable to find another in his field. He had gone to Washington DC to look for work, and died on a camping trip in the mountains of Shenandoah Park.

Ryo had a quirky sense of humor, loved animals, and enjoyed hiking and camping. He was a member of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Sierra Club, and the Basha Kill Area Association. Besides his mother, he leaves a sister, Laurel, and her husband Joe, of NY; a nephew, Kieran; an uncle, Alan Crane and his wife, Tamara of Silver Spring, MD; three aunts, Harriette Kiyabu of Los Angeles, Allison Crane, of Irvington-on-Hudson, NY, and Frances Crane, of New York City, as well as numerous cousins in Los Angeles, Arizona, Hawaii, and Hungary. He is sadly missed by all. Arrangements for cremation are through the Baker-Post Funeral Home of Manassas, VA. A memorial service will be held at a later time. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Ryo’s name to the Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

 Letters, phone calls, and e-mails poured in. If only Ryo had known how many people appreciated him, it might, at least in part, have made up for Sullivan County’s lack of compassion and understanding. When informed of what happened to him, a former girlfriend from Grinnell wrote:

At Grinnell he was considered eccentric (but that was a badge of honor at a place like Grinnell!), but a very good and nice guy and certainly no woman was ever afraid of him. My family enjoyed him. If I may be so bold, he had several very good, intelligent, balanced and capable girlfriends for fairly long term relations (I think we were together for 18 months, he and Pam for a year?). I only wish he would have called myself or Laura Davis when the work problems began because I think we could have helped him to sort it out. I am so sorry he suffered so much. He is remembered by his beloved Grinnellians as the best of people, playful and original.

Other comments from various sources appear in other posts on this blog.

The memorial service had to wait until the family could get together, along with someone to conduct the service. Back in my Wurtsboro days I had been a member of the Summitville Fire Company Auxiliary. The chaplain of the Auxiliary, and someone my sisters and I had met when we occasionally attended church in Summitville, was The Rev. Camille Regholec. What was my amazement when I looked through the listings in the local (Catskill) newspaper and found Camille named as pastor of the Palenville (where I now live) Methodist Church. Even more amazing was that the paper no longer gives the names of pastors, but did then. They had the address and phone number wrong but I finally reached Camille and we settled on June 4, 2011, for the service.

I had been in touch with the Asperger’s support group Ryo sometimes attended. Several members of it, along with many other people, came to the service. One member, Jesse Saperstein, had written a book, Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20⅓ Chapters. Jesse was horrified to learn of Ryo’s fate and, as an activist trying to promote a better understanding of Asperger’s, agreed to give the eulogy.

Several relatives were left in tears. Others said it was the best eulogy they had ever heard. Below are Jesse’s words in their entirety.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for allowing me to speak here today.  I have not delivered too many eulogies in my life and this one is probably going to be the hardest I’ll ever have to perform.  I did not have the privilege of knowing this incredible man who left our hearts and souls prematurely.  Our physical paths crossed too briefly when we both attended a barbeque last summer at the home of a mutual friend named Kate Palmer.  But from learning about him through the blog entries of his mother, Caroline Crane, and seeing all the people who have come to honor him today…I desperately wish there was an opportunity to turn back the clock and reach out to him.  Especially if I had known the level of anguish he was battling.  I have heard enough wonderful things about him to speak at this service honoring his contributions, stunted potential, and friendships that were cultivated with all of you.

Despite being blessed with the support of his incredible mother, Caroline Crane, and many of you in the congregation, Ryo was someone who did not receive too many “breaks” in his life, but seemed to do the absolute best he could with his social challenges.  As most of you already know, these challenges revolved around an undiagnosed case of Asperger’s syndrome or mild autism.  Yet he persisted with the passion of an underdog in a constant search for mercy in a world that often treated him like a square peg grinding its way into a round hole.  A world that reacted with fear and ignorance when that was easier than giving him the benefit of the doubt.

But for most of his life, Ryo never gave up, which is one of the factors that probably exacerbated his misery.  When something was broken…he wanted to try and fix it.  When a misunderstanding occurred, he attempted to resolve it.  When there were unanswered questions…he fought for closure.  When someone was afraid of his benign eccentricities…he put all his energy into helping them absolve that fear.  His determined soul was not built for a society that often preferred to give up in favor of what is easiest.

Ryo never stopped looking for a community that would show unconditional acceptance or at least differentiate between Asperger’s syndrome and malicious behavior.  Even if this meant moving across the country in search for a better life in Los Angeles, Ryo took these actions and more.

Ryo was a survivor in both the metaphorical and literal sense of the word.  Even during the grueling, six month regimen of chemotherapy to treat his bout with colon cancer, he refused to give up on work and life.  As his mother, Caroline, wrote in a recent blog entry, Rather than be dependant, he asked the oncologist to go easy on whatever sedative they added to lessen the discomfort. He wanted to stay awake both for driving and for work. His fellow staff members knew he was being treated, but only one, who had been through it himself, really understood the physical and emotional toll.

There were several factors contributing to Ryo’s unfortunate choice, although it is not fair to blame specific individuals for his departure.  But what I do know is things could have, would have, and should have been resolved with a semblance of dialogue and additional compassion.  I will not let this go and hopefully you won’t either as we search for answers and most important…prevention of future tragedies.

Ryo is someone who I would have liked to know better and he could have made a profound difference in my life. The irrational fear and constant misunderstandings that plagued his life are something I can relate to because we share the same diagnosis.  I can also empathize with the feelings of profound helplessness and sometimes wanting to give up in the worst way possible.  Ryo is definitely a man I would have wanted in my life who could have offered hope during dark periods.  In return, I would have done my best to return the favor.  Let the Ryos of today and tomorrow know there is an entire congregation of individuals who care about them and will help them fight for ourselves.

picture of Ryo at the memorial