Home google On Love and Autism: Our Favorite Student Comments - New York Times (blog)

On Love and Autism: Our Favorite Student Comments - New York Times (blog)


Love on the Spectrum: In the video above, Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students living in Greenfield, Mass., discuss how autism affects their lives and relationship.

In mid-March, we announced the latest installment of our Reading Club, on “Navigating Love and Autism” by Amy Harmon. While we’ve addressed love and intimacy before, and offered readers the opportunity to chat with a Reading Club article’s writer, this time, the young couple who are the subject of the article kicked off our comments.

Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith are both living with Asperger’s syndrome. The article, which appeared on the front page of The New York Times in December, is a candid account of their struggles with the disorder, with social situations and even with each other.

In having them open the discussion, and holding readers to the rules of the Reading Club, a great conversation developed.

Many readers adopted a tone that was familiar, respectful and direct, as though Jack and Kirsten were among their circle of close friends. We loved that they met Mr. Robison and Ms. Lindsmith’s honesty with appreciation. We had almost 100 comments, many of them writing in just to show support for the couple.

Here is how the conversation began:

From Kirsten:
Reading about my boring life from the perspective of an outsider made everything I take for granted as normal seem much more interesting. The release of the article itself only really affected me in the sense that I got a ton of Facebook friend requests from strangers, but my family certainly had a stronger opinion. Most of them were impressed that I was front and center in The N.Y. Times, especially those who didn’t yet know about my diagnosis!

From Jack:
Autism isn’t a disease. Autism and Asperger’s are considered disorders, which can be misleading because that implies that someone with autism is somehow “broken.” This is reinforced by the fact that people who don’t have Autism are referred to as “neurotypical.” More and more it is coming to light that there really isn’t such a thing as neurotypical, and that autism is only one of several different “types” of people. You may not have autism, but you probably fall under some other sort of category, like A.D.H.D.

Many readers echoed the idea that people aren’t “broken” by a disorder and rallied behind the need to eradicate stereotypical thinking toward people with disorders like Asperger’s. Ethan, who calls Jack and Kirsten an inspiration also says, “I think it is wrong for people to judge someone with a disorder any differently than someone without one, they are people just like us.”

Alex ACS reacted to this, pushing for a distinction between those who do and do not have such a disorder, while respectfully critiquing the many comments along the lines of what a “great couple” Kirsten and Jack make. Alex writes:

@Ethan jm, I agree with with you that one should not judge someone with a disorder any differently. However, to say there is no difference between someone with Asperger’s syndrome and someone without is to miss the complete point of the article. This article simply shows us the limits of those differences, and how the differences may not be relevant or may be overcome. Because of this, I think this article should not only be viewed with a “Oh! That’s so cute!” point of view, but also as a source of hope for anyone with a disability, as Jack and Kristen have shown that a disorder doesn’t limit people as much as they may think. Great article.

Other writers drew from their own background knowledge–from psychology classes, their own or friends’ experiences with Autism, ADHD or Asperger’s. Some even drew from creative works that have autism as their subject matter, like Mark Haddon’s novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” and the made-for-television movie “Temple Grandin,” which is also mentioned in the article.

Daniela 3D writes:

@ Jack. Reading your story confirms my belief that a person with Asperger’s is not “broken” and doesn’t have a disorder. In fact I believe that there are some advantages. After reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” and the movie of Temple Grandin, I discovered that people with Asperger’s can be very focused and concentrated in their object of interest thinking very carefully and critically. It helps them to have success. In the movie, Temple shows a passion for her object of interest that was science and animal welfare. It allowed her to center her mind on every detail. As a result she designed a better system of slaughterhouses. The story of Christopher, the main character of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is similar to Temple Grandin. Christopher was interested in math and as Temple, Christopher has an active mind on his object looking very carefully and thinking very critically. It helps him during the story to solve problems easily. Therefore I think these people have advantages in a very good way. However, as we know Asperger`s also has its disadvantages.

It wasn’t all praise, though. A few comments disagreed with the way that the author, Amy Harmon, portrayed Jack and Kirsten in the article. GraceJM wrote:

@AaronJM, I agree with your opinion of how Kirsten and Jack’s disorder is separate from love. The article is a beautiful love story, but I think the connection to their Asperger’s was approached badly. Asperger’s syndrome has an incredibly vague set of symptoms and there are many cases where patients have been misdiagnosed with Asperger’s. The fact there is a large chance to misdiagnose patients with “mild” Asperger’s makes me question the need for the focus on Kirsten and Jack’s disorder. The author might have been more successful if she had separated the story into two parts: the love story, and how Asperger’s affects Jack and Kirsten. What bothered me was the fact the article made a bigger point of their autism than how they work with each other. I think it is a shame that their love story relied on the fact they are autistic. I would have loved to have read more about Jack and Kirsten working past their personal quirks (like every relationship has to do), and less about the autism holding them back. It was almost as if the article was further enforcing the “labeling” they try so hard to avoid. It is uplifting to know Jack and Kirsten found each other, despite the challenges they face.

Tim JMCHS wrote:

I think that this article portrays Jack and Kristen’s relationship with an unfair, overrepresentation of autism. Love is a really hard thing to accomplish, maybe even the hardest thing in the world to achieve, and it is hard for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are autistic or not. If anything, this article shows trials and tribulations that befall every relationship of society. I respect Jack and Kristen’s dedication to this relationship and wish them the best for the future. All successful relationships deserve respect in a world where such bonds are rare. I commend them for love, but not for autism.

We end with JulianaACS, who impressed us with her close reading of the article and her suggestions for Ms. Harmon. Her comment reads, in its entirety:

I agree with your opinion of how Kirsten and Jack’s disorder is separate from love. The article is a beautiful love story, but I think the connection to their Asperger’s was approached badly. Asperger’s syndrome has an incredibly vague set of symptoms and there are many cases where patients have been misdiagnosed with Asperger’s. The fact there is a large chance to misdiagnose patients with “mild” Asperger’s makes me question the need for the focus on Kirsten and Jack’s disorder. The author might have been more successful if she had separated the story into two parts: the love story, and how Asperger’s affects Jack and Kirsten. What bothered me was the fact the article made a bigger point of their autism than how they work with each other. I think it is a shame that their love story relied on the fact they are autistic. I would have loved to have read more about Jack and Kirsten working past their personal quirks (like every relationship has to do), and less about the autism holding them back. It was almost as if the article was further enforcing the “labeling” they try so hard to avoid. It is uplifting to know Jack and Kirsten found each other, despite the challenges they face.


For more about autism, read Amy Harmon’s latest piece, “The Autism Wars,” or consult the related New York Times health guide.

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