A Teacher? No Way.

When I was in third grade, the teacher asked everybody in the class, one by one, what they wanted to be when they grew up. All the girls but one said they wanted to be a teacher. The boys were more varied. The one girl said she wanted to be an opera singer and she became one. I saw her at the Metropolitan Opera House playing a Valkyrie. After that she moved to San Diego and I lost track of her.

I didn’t really want to be a teacher. It just seemed like a good thing to say at the moment. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do until about three years later when I decided what I wanted was to act. I wanted to start immediately and be in the movies.

I gathered my friends and sisters together and dramatized the story of Rapunzel from the book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. We staged it in our living room at home. Our parents tried to help. My father surprised us by putting up a framework overnight so we could hang curtains. We advertised in the village of Croton more than a mile away. I was amazed when several girls from the village hiked up a long, steep hill to watch us. They must have thought it would be something spectacular. In fact, my dramatization was so short it was over almost as soon as it began. That left us befuddled. Someone suggested that we perform it again, so we did.

Our plays grew longer. We graduated from the living room to playing in the auditorium of a nearby private school. Our audiences grew larger and we charged admission. The funds were not for us but for the Red Cross. This was during and just after World War II. I and several other people wrote original scripts. We had to do our own because if we performed someone else’s we’d have to pay a fee. But I still never thought of actually becoming a writer. I wanted to act even though I wasn’t very good at it.

I chose Bennington College in Vermont because it had notable dance and drama departments. There, I studied modern dance. It was the only kind they offered, but during vacations I took ballet classes in New York City. I had started late, at age sixteen, but thought I could catch up if I worked hard. Which I did. For a while I practiced ballet every day in the practice room at college, sprinkling the floor with resin so my slippers wouldn’t slip. The modern dancers didn’t like that on their bare feet.

The dance was only secondary. I majored in drama, specifically acting. My father despaired, paying all that tuition for such frivolity. He felt a little better that I minored in Russian.

But that was a minor. The acting was primary. Until I met Boris. Next time I’ll have more to say about him.

It’s Curtains

A little more than five years ago, James Ryo Kiyan was tried and found guilty of stalking a coworker, whom we shall call Miss M. Both were employed by the Sullivan County, NY, Department of Planning and Environmental Management.

“Sexual harassment” the accusers said, although there was nothing sexual about what he actually did. He admitted to having a crush on Miss M, but all he wanted was to talk.

They had had lunch together at an old inn. Afterward he said, “We should do that again sometime.” He remembered her saying, “Yes, definitely.” She remembered being struck dumb.

He thought they were really into something, and so next he suggested they have dinner and a movie together. He would provide the food and a DVD and cook the dinner at her apartment. He felt he couldn’t invite her to his place because he was staying with his mother and the old bat would have been in their way.

This was too much for Miss M. Ryo finally caught on that what he had done was a huge social gaffe. He tried to tell her he realized that now and was terribly sorry. She wanted nothing more to do with him. He wanted to talk it over and be sure she understood that he understood. She didn’t want to talk at all.

It’s obvious that she felt none of the romantic stirrings that he felt. To her, they were simply coworkers who had made friends, and that was that. He was considerably older than she, and she wanted the friendship to end.

Ryo had Asperger’s syndrome. It’s a high-functioning form of autism. He explained to his office mates that he had it. Asperger people are known for their poor social skills. They have  trouble putting themselves into other people’s shoes and understanding where those others are coming from. He didn’t realize that his persistence seemed frightening to Miss M. He only knew he wanted to be friends. Her avoidance made him keep at it until she complained to the commissioner of their department

The commissioner warned him to leave Miss M alone. As I recounted those facts in earlier posts, many readers condemned Ryo for being stupid and disobedient when he refused to follow orders. His refusal, they said, was wrong, and he shouldn’t have done it.

I never said it wasn’t wrong. I fully agree that it was, but I happen to know that in his eyes, it wasn’t. He only wanted to talk to her. According to him, what was wrong with that? He thought everyone else just didn’t understand. And so he persisted and finally was suspended from his job.

They suspended him for one month without pay, then pay would resume until the formal hearing sometime in the future. But he was not to come to the office or have any further contact with anyone who worked there.

The hearing took place a few months later. There were several witnesses for Miss M, none for Ryo, who had to hire and pay for a lawyer. Ryo was permitted only to answer questions and say nothing of his own. I don’t know whether his higher-ups even knew about the Asperger’s. If they did, they failed to take it into account as any sort of explanation for his behavior. Asperger’s syndrome is not something a person chooses and it is more serious than most people suppose. You can’t imagine what it’s like unless you were born with it. And if you were, you can’t imagine what it’s like not to have it.

The hearing lasted for several days. It took the officer in charge a couple of months to make her decision. When she did, Ryo was deemed guilty of sexual harassment and lost his job.

He never expected that. In his mind, he hadn’t done anything really bad and he was good at his work. No one had any complaints about that. Until he was actually fired, he kept talking about “When I get my job back . . .”

He spent almost a year looking for a new job. He felt severely handicapped by the charge of “sexual harassment,” but with the Asperger’s, he couldn’t lie about having lost his job. That honesty, by the way, is a common trait among Asperger people. They tend to take things literally, including the truth.

For a while, before studying map-making, he worked in Washington, DC as a legal secretary. Finally he went back there to see if he could find similar work.

He was there a week. He e-mailed me that he wasn’t having much success and thought he could do just as well job-hunting on the Internet. He would be home, he said, on Friday night.

I left the porch door unlocked for him. I waited all weekend. The next week his commissioner called to say Ryo’s car had been found abandoned in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The park was looking for him.

A New York State trooper came to see if he could get more information. He wanted to check Ryo’s computer but didn’t have the know-how, so he said he would be back with someone who could help.

When two troopers came a few days later, I thought it was for that purpose. I thought nothing of it when they asked me to shut my two dogs in another room and be sure I was sitting down. Then one of them told me, “Your son is deceased.”

They gave me a phone number but it was the wrong one. I called my brother, who lived in Maryland, near DC. He got the right number and I talked to the park. They had found Ryo on Pig Nut Mountain where he had committed suicide by using a helium pump.

I’ve been told that people with Asperger’s have a higher than average rate of suicide because they feel so out of sync with the rest of the world. If his bosses had known and understood about the Asperger’s, they might have handled the whole thing differently. That was why I started this blog. I wanted to explain about Asperger’s and help people understand how different it is from what most of us are used to; how differently people with Asperger’s see and experience the world.

The blog has brought both positive and negative feedback. The negative people continue to insist that Ryo was shockingly wrong and shouldn’t have done what he did. This makes me feel that my message hasn’t gotten across. Probably in many cases it never will.

I’ve said it all several times. Most people have understood and there are those who won’t, ever. I don’t need to say it again, and so, with this post, I wind up my blog. I thought of turning it into a writer’s blog but that would muddy the whole concept. Instead I’ve opened a writer’s page on Facebook to discuss books and related topics, to answer questions, and keep in touch with those who read my novels. The name of the site is, believe it or not, Caroline Crane. (Facebook says they have over 70 members named Caroline Crane, but I hope mine is the only writer’s site with that name.)

Goodbye from this blog and my best wishes to all of you. It’s been great.

Be Aware of Mesothelioma

September 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day.

What, you may ask, is mesothelioma?

You’ve probably heard of it, though you may not know its name. It’s a cancer you can get primarily from exposure to asbestos fibers. Even though asbestos isn’t as widely used as it was in the past, people are still being diagnosed with the cancer because it has a long latency period. Between 2,500 and 3,000 new cases come into being each year.

A lot more of the victims are men because a lot more men worked in industries where asbestos exposure was, at one time, quite common. This was especially true in navy shipyards and other places where asbestos was a popular and effective insulating material. And it doesn’t burn, which made it especially valuable.

Most people are diagnosed late because they don’t realize they have the cancer. Not only does it take a long time to develop but at first its symptoms can seem like those of a common cold, with the coughing, the chest pain, the shortness of breath. When those symptoms won’t go away, the person may finally see a doctor. Or not.

If he does, and the doctor has any awareness at all, he will order some imaging scans. When those show cancer, or even hint at it, the person will be sent to a mesothelioma expert. There are such people, even though it’s a rare disease.

As yet, there is no definite cure for mesothelioma. Treatment depends on the age and general condition of the patient, and the stage of the disease. There are four stages, ranging from the first, which is localized with no further involvement of body tissues or lymph nodes, to the fourth, where it has spread throughout the body. Young patients in otherwise good health and in only an early stage of the disease, may have a chance. In later stages, or with elderly people, doctors try as much as possible to keep them comfortable. That’s about all they can do.

Treatment may involve surgery, which can entail removal of, or most of, the tumor, or even the whole lung. That will be followed up by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Ultimate survival is still rare, even though scientists are constantly working to develop more and better cures.

Although most of the victims are men, women and even children have come down with this cancer, too. Before asbestos was known to be such a killer, men would come home from work with the magnesium-silicate fibers in their clothes. These would get loose in the air that was breathed by their families. Because the cancer takes so long to develop, no one realized the danger for decades. The latency period can, at its shortest, be about ten years, but the usual developmental period is 20 to 50 years from exposure. The age at which most people are diagnosed is between 50 and 70 years.

A lung is most usually affected, causing what’s known as pleural mesothelioma. But asbestos fibers can be swallowed, too, and cause a tumor in the stomach or elsewhere in the digestive system. This is known as peritoneal mesothelioma. It can make swallowing difficult. Or it can affect the pericardium, the area around the heart.

From the time diagnosis is made, most patients survive about 10 months to a year. However, the survival rate gets better all the time. A notable survivor is Heather Von St. James, who was diagnosed at the age of 36 and has been cancer-free for eight years. Heather is happy to talk by phone to those who are diagnosed with mesothelioma or their loved ones. To find out how to get in touch with her, call the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance toll-free at 1-800-336-0086. Or e-mail them at http://www.mesothelioma.com/

Aspies Are Different

This blog was started more than two years ago for the purpose of trying to explain that an Asperger mind is different from a neurotypical mind.

To this day I don’t seem to have made a dent, at least on most of those who comment. With some I do. Or maybe they already felt that way. I have received some very nice feedback on some of my posts. And a lot of negative feed.

Perhaps it’s the negative writers who feel more compelled to say something. Only yesterday I got a comment that was the same old, same old. The writer reminded me once again that Ryo Kiyan was told repeatedly by his bosses and by Miss M herself to stay away from her. And yet he didn’t. That, said the writer, is stalking. Since Ryo refused to recognize that it was stalking, and since he didn’t obey, he was not a good person.

I lived with Ryo. I knew him all his life, and happen to know he was a good person. I also know he didn’t think like you or me. His whole mind worked differently because it was an Asperger mind. What seems obvious to us never occurred to him. And what seemed obvious to him would not have occurred to us.

In his mind, he was right to try every which way to carry on a dialog with Miss M, to get her to see that he meant well, that he liked her, and wanted to be her friend. It seemed to him that those who would try to prevent that happy state were wrong. If he obeyed them, he would be wrong, too.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Ryo was a very stubborn person. You and I know it’s better to be flexible, but stubborn is the way he was and he couldn’t help it any more than he could help having Asperger’s syndrome. He saw things his way, and if anyone saw it another way, it meant they didn’t like him and didn’t like anything he did. Imagine having to go through life with that attitude. But that was all he knew and he didn’t understand any other way.

Fortunately not all Aspies are so stubborn, but they are different from non-Aspies. Those differences manifest themselves in many different ways. There’s an old chestnut that goes, “If you’ve met one person with Asperger’s syndrome, you’ve met one person with Asperger’s syndrome.” You can’t expect them all to be the same and you can’t expect them to be like non-Aspies. They can’t be. Their brains are wired differently. They have no idea what it’s like not to have Asperger’s syndrome because Asperger’s syndrome is all they’ve ever known. And there’s nothing wrong with it, until they clash with non-Aspies.

Aspies can do many things that non-Aspies can’t. They can focus on things that non-Aspies don’t even notice. They can take a huge interest in something non-Aspies don’t care about, learn everything there is to know, and talk your ears off about it. Because it’s hard for them to put themselves in other people’s shoes, they can’t understand that other people might not share their interest.

That inability to grasp where other people are coming from is why Ryo had no idea he was scaring Miss M with his persistence. That’s why a mediation session (which was his idea, no one else’s) might have helped in explaining him to her and her to him. It would have been a lot cheaper and easier than the kangaroo court Sullivan County held and might have had a happier outcome all around.

So you see? Aspies aren’t so dumb after all. They are only different.

Incidentally, my young adult book “Under Cover” has been recommended by All Romance eBooks. I’m not sure why, since “Under Cover” is not really a romance, even though it has some romance in it. Mostly it’s suspense, but they seem to like the book enough to recommend it. I hope you will like it, too, even if you’re not a young adult.

Aspie Lives

The publication date for the third novel in my young adult Revenger series went by before I remembered it. The date was April 24. The book is Under Cover. 

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I’d begun that series because I wanted to show a character with Asperger’s syndrome whose disorder is misunderstood and gets him into a pile of trouble. Those who follow this blog will know where that idea came from

Once I started it, I realized it wasn’t enough story to sustain a whole novel. To remedy that, I added a suspense plot, which became the backbone of the book. The Asperger’s was intertwined and the two threads merged at the end.

That first book in the series was Twenty Minutes Late. Since it was written for young adults, all the main characters are in their late teens and reappear, including my Asperger guy, in each of the subsequent books. For more on those books, and others, check my website at carolinecrane.com/

Back in December, People Magazine ran an article about the singer Susan Boyle who for years had suffered from depression and anxiety. As a child she was told that the problem was brain damage. Finally at age 52 she found a specialist and was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It relieved her immensely to have a clear idea of what was wrong. The story quotes her as saying, “I think people will treat me better because they will have a much greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do.” (People, Dec. 23, 2013)

May Susan have better luck with that than many others do. Ryo Kiyan, too, hoped a formal diagnosis would help his detractors understand him, but it didn’t. It seems impossible for most people to grasp that Asperger brains don’t work the same as ours. Many things don’t mean quite the same to Aspies as they do to others. It still mystifies Miss M that Ryo continued to harass her when he was repeatedly warned away from her. He thought he was doing something entirely different from what Miss M and the Sullivan County higher-ups thought he was doing. Since he didn’t understand the purpose behind those warnings, they were about as futile as expecting a blind person to see just because everyone else can.

That’s not entirely analogous. Aspies can be helped to understand other points of view if it’s explained to them in ways they can relate to. Many younger Aspies are more fortunate than Ryo in that they grew up knowing they had Asperger’s and often had people to help them deal with it.

Or not.

In January, Huff Post ran an account by an Aspie of what his life was like. The title was, “My Poverty, Like My Asperger’s, Is Not a Myth” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/whitney-bradley/working-poor-disability_b_4512700.html) The author, Whitney Bradley, describes a wretched life of not fitting in, not knowing how to conduct himself, not being able to find more than entry-level jobs or even a decent living. All that, with an above-average brain.

The article resonated with me because it was close to Ryo’s story. Despite a near-genius IQ, it took Ryo several decades to find his niche. When at last he did, it all blew up because of his Asperger’s.

The comments following that article were divided. Those from Aspies agreed with the author and reported similar experiences. The few from non-Aspies couldn’t see why it was so difficult to “get over it.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the impression I had.) Any current comments will probably differ from the ones I printed, because they change from time to time.

And for you, Miss M, another article I came across might help to explain Ryo’s persistence in spite of those warnings. It tells about a young man working in a grocery store. (http://abcnews.go.com/US/outpouring-support-grocery-store-employee-aspergers-berated-slowness/story?id=20865367) Although a regular employee of the store, he was pinch-hitting that day as a cashier, and still feeling his way. One woman grew impatient and burst out, berating him for his slowness and then screamed about him to the manager.

The young man was devastated. To him it said less about the woman than about himself. By evening, when he described it to his family, he was still as depressed as he had been when it first happened 10 hours earlier. His sister explained later, “Part of Asperger’s is the inability to move on.” He was stuck there in the past, needing to wrap up the incident and reach a conclusion that made sense. Aspies can be uncomfortable with unfinished business and dangling ends.

The above story had a happy ending. The young man’s sister, knowing how he enjoyed Facebook, wrote an account of his ordeal and asked those who knew him to post any good words they could think of. The result was amazing. He was someone whom most people liked and they flooded Facebook as well as the supermarket itself.

Years after Ryo Kiyan’s ordeal, his wildest dream came true. Unfortunately, for him it was too late. A professor at his graduate school, looking to fill a place in their geography department, thought of Ryo and tried to reach him. Instead he learned of Ryo’s death and wrote me a very nice message, expressing his appreciation of my son. It was a nice counterpoint to the often negative comments I get from people who still don’t understand about Asperger’s. Or in some cases it seems as if they don’t want to.

Meeting of Minds

 

In this month’s issue of Catskill/Cairo magazine is an article about Common Ground, an organization that specializes in mediation. As an example of how it works, they present a California case between two neighbors of different cultures and languages. Neither spoke much English. The woman, a Hmong from Southeast Asia, owned a flock of chickens. The man, from Mexico, was accused of stealing one of the flock.

 The woman became frantic and demanded that he return the chicken or pay her $3000. The man didn’t have $3000, nor could he return the chicken because it had been served at a family barbecue.

The mediator didn’t speak much of either language, but managed to elicit the fact that the woman had recently lost a son. The man asked, “Did the chicken belong to your son?”

The woman, whose religion espoused reincarnation, claimed the chicken was her son. The man, at last understood what the situation meant to her, apologized most profoundly, and promised to take the place of that son. She, in turn, was able to grasp his lack of awareness and to accept the apology. We’ll assume he still had to make some sort of reparation for the theft.

Two cultures, two languages. Even with those barriers, the mediator succeeded in bringing about a mutual understanding and a peaceful solution.

As I read that on what would have been Ryo Kiyan’s 52nd birthday, I remembered his own idea that the issue between him and Miss M (see earlier posts), which ultimately led to his suicide, could have been settled with a simple mediation session. Those were his words, “a simple mediation session.”

Later, when I mentioned this concept to others, some were horrified at the thought of forcing poor, frightened Miss M into the same room with her nemesis.

Who said anything about forcing? It never occurred to me that anyone would think that. Needless to say (or perhaps not so needless), such a session is entirely voluntary. Mediation cannot take place if either party is coerced. Presumably both sides would agree that talking things out through a skilled mediator could help them settle their dispute to mutual satisfaction.

This was something Ryo suggested privately, not to the powers in the Sullivan County government who prosecuted him. Being lawyers and bureaucrats, they did it the bureaucratic way, which meant holding a formal hearing at which no witnesses were called for his side and he was not permitted to speak for himself, only to answer questions. Even Michael Sussman, the attorney he hired to defend him, did nothing to bring up the Asperger issue which, in the long run, was the crux of the problem. Aspie minds are organized differently from those of non-Aspies. They simply cannot see things the same way, and vice versa. And because they’ve been Aspies all their lives, they often don’t realize how different their worldview is from that of others. The same is true of those others. They can’t grasp how an Aspie sees things, or the size of the gulf between the two minds.

Ryo’s cousin, Sharleen, understood. Her actual words were, “His reality was different from the norm, but that was what made him unique.” She knew him well enough to appreciate those differences, rather than feel threatened by them, unlike Miss M and Sullivan County. A mediation session would have explained to Miss M that Ryo meant her no harm, that he only wanted answers. He didn’t think of himself as a danger. He thought they were friends, and knew his intentions were benign. It never entered his Aspie mind that she might have a different take on things.

Mediation would have made clear to him that she did have a different take, that his persistence frightened her to the point of carrying a knife and pepper spray for protection. It would have explained that the friendship he valued so highly was only a casual office acquaintance and to her, his constant insistence on dialog seemed more like stalking than talking. He learned the truth only at the hearing when it was too late to change anything.

In my last post I promised to talk about a piece I came across by an Aspie in which he describes what it’s like to have Asperger’s. My plans for that went awry when I read the article on mediation. It seemed so apt, I just had to get it in. Next time I will discuss the Aspie story.

 

Lack of Understanding

Again it’s been many weeks since I last posted. My excuse this time is that I was occupied with finishing my latest wip (work in progress), the third novel in my young adult Revenger series.

 I never set out to write a series. But when I planned a sequel to Twenty Minutes Late, the publisher suggested a series might be the way to go. Both Twenty Minutes and this blog were inspired by the same event, that is, what happened to Ryo Kiyan, which resulted from a widespread ignorance of Asperger’s Syndrome and the prejudice engendered by that ignorance. I gave the syndrome to my hero, Ben Canfield. A novel needed more than that, so I added a mystery-suspense plot. That became the core of the book, as has been true of all its sequels.

Twenty Minutes was written in the third person with several different viewpoints, including Ben’s. He has two or three chapters that show his feelings about what’s happening to him.

The next two books are written in first person. In the latest, Under Cover, I discuss those previous events in retrospect. My heroine, Cree, who has become Ben’s girlfriend, muses on how it was for Ben:

Aspies often have a problem with social connections. For some reason, their neurological set-up makes it hard for them to understand how those things work. In his junior year Ben got to be friends with a girl who shared a lot of his interests. He must have thought he found his soul mate. After a while he got up the nerve to ask her out, something he’d never done before with any girl. When she refused and started avoiding him, he thought he must have done something horribly wrong. He kept trying to find out what it was and apologize. She, the neurotic bitch, accused him of stalking and got him in real trouble.

 

Ben? Stalking? He might have come on a bit strong, but he thought they were friends and never dreamed she’d see him as a danger. It’s tough being an Aspie, with people thinking the worst of you. They always seem to.

The school bigwigs were too dumb to know that his persistence was part of the Asperger’s, that he had no malicious intent whatsoever. They held all sorts of hearings and were getting ready to expel him. Before they actually did, Ben transferred to Southbridge High.

That’s a big chunk for a quote, but it’s my book so I don’t think I’m infringing on anyone’s copyright. What happened to Ryo happened in the workplace. Since this series is for young adults, my characters are all teenagers and the events take place in school. The basic problem is the same as it was in real life. In the first book, Twenty Minutes, we see it happening as it happens.

Ben is a recurring character in the series, as are several others. Only in the second book, Long Sleep, did I refrain from dwelling on his Asperger’s, although I believe I mentioned it. I’ve tried to show how it affects him, how he copes with it, and how others view him, some with affection and understanding, others not. In Long Sleep there is more of an emphasis on sociopaths. People of that ilk make another appearance in Under Cover. They will also figure in the book I’m starting now, with the tentative title of Blackout. Even so, Ben and his Asperger’s will play an important role, for the simple reason that my main purpose is an attempt to bring about a better understanding of that syndrome. I firmly believe that if the people in Ryo Kiyan’s workplace had known something about Asperger’s, his fate might have been entirely different.

Next time I’ll discuss a post I came across by an Aspie who tells us what it’s like to have Asperger’s. (Hint: it’s rough.) I wish I could reproduce the whole thing but there are rules about that. I can only give you the link, which I will.