GREENFIELD, Mass. — 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.
She was the only girl to have ever asked questions about his obsessive interests — chemistry, libertarian politics, the small drone aircraft he was building in his kitchen — as though she actually cared to hear his answer. To Jack, who has a form of autism called Asperger syndrome, her mind was uncannily like his. She was also, he thought, beautiful.
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.
On that fall day in 2009, Kirsten did not know that someone as intelligent and articulate as Jack might be unable to read the feelings of others, or gauge the impact of his words. And only later would she recognize that her own lifelong troubles — bullying by students, anger from teachers and emotional meltdowns that she felt unable to control — were clues that she, too, occupied a spot on what is known as the autism spectrum.
But she found comfort in Jack’s forthrightness. If he did not always say what she wanted to hear, she knew that whatever he did say, he meant. As he dropped her off on campus that morning, she replayed in her head the e-mail he had sent the other day, describing their brief courtship with characteristic precision.
“Is this what love is, Kirsten?” he had asked.