Thus far I've only seen a trailer for it, but there is a new romatic comedy out that is getting good reviews. It's about a man with Asperger's syndrome who falls in love with his neighbor. It's called Adam. I'll be seeing it this weekend if I can.
Watching the trailer, I was immediately reminded of an incident in my own life which is directly mirrored by a scene in the trailer. The scene reflects an example of the literal interpretation that we Aspergers are subject to. It shows Adam's love interest telling him that she needs a hug. He just kind of stands there not knowing what to do. She then explicitly asks him for a hug, and then finally he responds appropriately.
Most people would probably find this overly dramatic. Nobody, not even an Asperger could be that dense could they? Well, uh actually...yeah it's plausible.
If you've ever wondered what goes through an Asperger's mind when something like this happens, well let me share with you a little story from my own life.
It was 1987, I had recently moved to the Washington DC area. Being a natural misfit with a musical gift, I found a measure of acceptance in DC's underground "hardcore" scene (for the uninitiated, that's a form of punk rock). I got a gig as a drummer in a local band which quickly found itself on the upswing within "the scene". I may not have been very good at dealing with people, but I could bang the skins like nobody's business. I quickly became kind of a rising star, if only at the local level.
Like many aspergers, when on the stage, I was in my element and was able to blossom to my full potential as a human being, albeit fleetingly. I became someone completely different than who I normally appeared to be. My natural shyness disappeared, and for a brief 45 minute period, I became a charismatic and compelling performer who gave his all in his art and his performance. The effect would last for a little while after the set as I basked in the glow of the accolades I would be receiving, and then back into my shell I would go.
As a member of a rising local act and even though I was awkward, shy, and at times abrasive due to my lack of "people skills", the DC alternative scene accepted me as I was. Probably the only time in my life that anyone ever had. I got to go to all the right parties and hang out with a lot of "cool" people, something I had never experienced before. I was part of the "in" crowd, which for a guy who had been an uber-nerd in high school seemed like paradise. In our little subculture, I was damn near the top of the heap, not under it as I had been as a teenager and even in college. I was a good looking and talented guy who absent a debilitating social disability would have been a natural "chick magnet", but because of the way I perceived the world, and frankly because of the way the world generally reacted to me, I lacked the self confidence and the social skills to exploit my new found status or my natural gifts.
One day, at one of these subculture parties I glimpsed an angel. A punk rock princess with semi-spiked bluish-black hair, dark red lipstick, too much eye makeup, and clad in a black leather biker jacket, ragged red plaid skirt, and torn fishnet stockings. The ultimate in punk rock chic, she was four feet and eleven inches of what for me was the loveliest vision to walk the Earth since Nancy Spungen. I asked someone who she was, Alicia was her name. I was hooked! I figured she was out of my league, but that didn't stop me from admiring her.
Alicia invaded not just my dreams but my every waking thought as I moved through the day. I had it bad, but my social awkwardness and low self esteem brought about by a lifetime of rejection prevented even the thought of ever approaching her.
As the months passed, I gradually allowed thoughts of Alicia to recede to the background as I continued to work through my boring but relatively good day job and my aspiring rock star night life as best I could. The infection was still there, but the fever had subsided enough for me to get on with life.
Then one day, a few months later, my band was invited to play at Alicia's birthday party. I believe it was arranged by her brother John with whom I had become friendly. I don't remember the details of how it started, but somehow I got to engage in conversation with Alicia. Alicia was intelligent, engaging, truly interested in her field of study and future career and had good solid liberal values. We really hit it off. We spent a glorious night together and both believed we were destined for something wonderful.
One night a short time later, I got a call at about midnight. It was Alicia's brother John. They were stranded downtown and needed a ride back to Hyattsville. I had to work the next day, but I got up and drove down to where I was supposed to meet them. There was nobody there, I looked around for a while but could not find anybody, I could not wait all night so I just went home.
After I got home the phone rang again, it was Alicia, they still needed the ride. By this time it must have been 1:30AM and I really could not afford to lose any more sleep. With frustration in my voice, I told her she would have to take a taxi, I just couldn't go.
Well, that was the end of our relationship. She probably thought I was being an insensitive prick or worse. The next time I spoke to her she made it clear it was over.
Like most aspergers, I'm fairly oblivious to many of the social interactions going on around me, and don't always have any idea how people perceive me. So I was completely unaware that there was some undercover matchmaking going on during this whole period. Evidently, someone, unbeknownst to me, had interceded on my behalf with Alicia.
I believe it was her brother, who may have felt a measure of responsibility for having created the incident which lead to the end of our too brief romance. In any case, Alicia for I think the first time, was visiting at a group house in Hyattsville where many of us hung out. We were playing board games, which can be very protracted and during a pizza run I found myself alone in my car with Alicia.
Alicia was approaching graduation day at the University of Maryland and was beginning to think about her life going foreward. She said that most of the guys she met in "the scene" were basically losers who weren't likley to ever do anything with their lives.
I at least had the reputation of if nothing else, having a decent day job and a sharp mind. Most people figured once the days of "scene hanging" were over I'd go on to something bigger and better. I also did not have the reputation of being a womanizer as did most of the other guys in my shoes. I was independent, I didn't live in my Mom's basement, wasn't hooked on drugs, and was rarely seen inebriated, but I still had a hint of the wild stallion in me as anyone who saw me perform would attest. None of that was mentioned explicitly but with this distance of time I'm pretty sure at least some portion of it was why we were having this conversation. I was a guy worth catching and hanging on to, and only Alicia ever really saw it.
Alicia then told me that she needed to find a guy who had a future and then she coyly asked if I knew where she could meet such a guy.
Well, here is where the Asperger's kicked in. I was completely clueless on how to respond. I could not for the life of me understand why she was asking me this. Applying all the logic I could muster I interpreted this at face value. Having already rejected me, she must have wanted to meet someone else, not me. It never occurred to me that what she really was doing was giving me another chance, that it was me she wanted. I didn't have a clue, so all I could say was, "uh, no...I don't".
At that point Alicia left my car and I never saw or heard from her again, and I don't blame her I guess. She must have felt embarrassed, rejected, perhaps even humiliated. But in fact, it was a matter of misunderstanding that haunts me even today. Were it not for my inability to understand social nuance, I would have reached over and given her a hug and a kiss and told her how I adored her, for that is how I really felt.
I've moved on with my life of course, I'm happily married with a wonderful family today. But before I met my spouse, I spent a good many years kicking myself after that, and it's one of too many examples of how this little communication problem really affects those of us who live even at the very upper edges of the autism spectrum.