Conservatives, Aspergers and the New York Times

If folks have been following me, you know that my political viewpoints tend to skew conservative/libertarian.  So, at times I like to read things from conservative writers like Heather MacDonald.  That said, what she wrote recently regarding a New York Times article on two autistic young adults trying to learn to be in a relationship is totally off the mark. I personally thought it was a great piece about these two persons who have communication issues learn to…communicate.  For some reason, Ms. MacDonald could only see it was sloppy writings about sex that didn’t warrant a front page article.  Here’s a little of her venom:


The feminization of journalism reached a new low this week with the New York Times’ front-page story on a sexual relationship between two teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome. The article began:

The first night they slept entwined on his futon, Jack Robison, 19, who had since childhood thought of himself as “not like the other humans,” regarded Kirsten Lindsmith with undisguised tenderness.

. . .

So far they had only cuddled; Jack, who had dropped out of high school but was acing organic chemistry in continuing education classes, had hopes for something more. Yet when she smiled at him the next morning, her lips seeking his, he turned away.

“I don’t really like kissing,” he said.

Kirsten, 18, a college freshman, drew back. If he knew she was disappointed, he showed no sign.

It gets worse. Next up: the couple’s erotic proclivities, recounted in excruciating detail.

From the beginning, their physical relationship was governed by the peculiar ways their respective brains processed sensory messages. Like many people with autism, each had uncomfortable sensitivities to types of touch or texture, and they came in different combinations.

Jack recoiled when Kirsten tried to give him a back massage, pushing deeply with her palms.

“Pet me,” he said, showing her, his fingers grazing her skin. But Kirsten, who had always hated the feeling of light touch, shrank from his caress.

“Only deep pressure,” she showed him, hugging herself.

He tried to kiss her, but it was hard for her to enjoy it, so obvious was his aversion. To him, kissing felt like what it was, he told her: mashing your face against someone else’s. Neither did he like the sweaty feeling of hand-holding, a sensation that seemed to dominate all others whenever they tried it.

“I’m sorry,” he said helplessly.

They found ways to negotiate sex, none of them perfect. They kept trying.

Inexplicably, the Times fails to give us Jack and Kirsten’s favorite coital positions, or the details of their foreplay; such matters await in another article, no doubt. 

The first thing that’s wrong about this is Ms. MacDonald making this out to be an article about two persons with autism having sex.  That’s not what it’s about.  Where there is talk about sex its pretty brief, but MacDonald acts as if this was some kind of bawdy romance in the middle of the Times.  When I read some of this, I was thinking about how different kinds of touch can bother me.  That doesn’t immediately mean I’m talking about me being naked with my partner.  Persons, with autism have sensory issues and those happen when we are in love and when we are not, when we are clothed and when we are not.

My guess is that Ms. MacDonald doesn’t really care about the intricacies of being an adult with autism.  Reading the rest of her diabtribe, this article is simply the launching point for “what wrong with the world” which in her case is the “feminization of the New York Times.”  Whatever.

The Times is not always my favorite thing to read because it leans too far to the left in my view.  But I also think they can do good stories and this is one of them.  There are a lot of people like Jack and Kirsten, and myself who try to stumble through the complexities of dating on top of being autistic.  That makes dating (and I’m not talking about knocking boots here) a challenge.  Most people know how to “be” in a relationship, but for persons with autism this is not easy.  That’s what this article was trying to show, not what was someone’s favorite coital position.

I can’t say whether or not it was right for the Times to place the article on the front page.  I can say bravo for writing it and publishing it.  I only wish Ms. MacDonald would have spent more time getting to know those of us with autism instead of brushing us off. 



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