could be better than seeing my daughter start dating a handsome young man? Sarah is 22, on the autistic spectrum, and
just lost more than 20 pounds. Her last (and only) boyfriend broke up with her because
his parents got divorced, and he had to move to Texas with his father. For the two years since then, my daughter has
seesawed up and down 20-30 pounds during each academic year. She has also enviously watched her twin
brother enjoy a parade of women, trying to keep track of all the names and
faces in Max’s stories (and his bedroom). In those days, I saw it written all
over her face: “When is it going to be
today’s world, it’s hard enough for an attractive, neurotypical young woman to meet
a nice guy. Imagine what it’s like for
an overweight young woman on the autistic spectrum. How can she manage the
social, emotional and cognitive challenges necessary to find a boyfriend? It’s next to impossible. As her mother, I have been hoping for a reasonably
high-functioning young man, who was willing and able to use condoms, in
addition to functioning independently enough to plan a date and see my daughter
safely home. What were the odds of Sarah
finding this needle in New York City’s haystack?
my joy at a dinner party this summer when Sarah clicked with Jake, my friend’s
son with Asperger’s Syndrome.
my friend Daniel’s home, I noticed his son right away. Jake was a handsome 6’5” with dark eyes and a
cleft chin. His long, muscular body was sprawled across the couch to discourage
anyone from sitting next to him. Jake said hello with minimal eye contact, so I
hurried into the kitchen to open the wine I’d brought. As
soon as I returned to the living room, I noticed that Jake had moved over enough
for Sarah to sit next to him on the couch. They sat side by side in front of Jake’s computer screen.
minutes later, Sarah approached me with an enormous Cheshire-cat smile. “Jake invited me to the movies. Can I go?”
We just got here. After dinner, if you
want….” I laughed. I couldn’t believe the aloof, socially
awkward young man in the living room had managed to ask Sarah out in record
time, faster than the few moments it took
me to open a wine bottle.
that was fast!” I commented to my husband.
“As soon as you left the room, he asked her to
sit with him.” Henry whispered. “He’s
quickly finishing their Asian chicken salad, Jake and Sarah departed. Our host Daniel assured Henry and me that his
son was “a gentleman” and would make sure Sarah got home safely. Jake is 25, in graduate school at NYU and
has his own tiny apartment. Like Sarah,
he has had one other serious relationship. That meant less worry about impulsive sex or birth
control. Jake’s parents had raised him
the way Henry and I had raised Max: Treat a woman with respect, take it slow, and if you decide to become
intimate, always wear a condom.
came home that night, delighted with her “hot date.”
summer vacation interrupted my daughter’s slowly unfolding romance, but she and
Jake have been seeing each other nearly every week since mid-September. Jake has taken Sarah to dinner, the movies,
and even to see the play, “Romeo and Juliet.” I decided to call Jake’s father and
bring him up to speed on our kids’ burgeoning romance, since I knew Jake shared very little of
his life with his parents. In contrast,
Sarah usually told us everything—sometimes in more detail than parents want to
“Sarah told me she was out with
Jake on their seventh date,” I told Daniel. “They seem to like each other. Sarah’s been spending a lot of time at Jake’s
was a long pause on the other end of the phone. “I had no idea Jake had been seeing Sarah the last few weeks.” His voice was clipped. “There’s something I
need to share with you.” Jake might have bedbugs.” Daniel let out a heavy
sigh. “We told him not to have any
friends over before we dealt with the problem, but obviously he didn’t listen.
there was the bomb.
“Bed bugs can be quite contagious,” I said
carefully, wondering if there was any possibility that bedbugs were hatching on
MY mattress as we spoke. The hairs rose on the back of my neck and I started to
itch. My immediate neighbors had had bedbugs, and it took several months and
thousands of dollars to exterminate them in a one bedroom apartment. We have three bedrooms. I
scratched my neck.
sorry,” Daniel said over the phone. “I’ll
make sure Jake tells Sarah tonight.”
I took a
deep breath. “Sarah doesn’t understand
what bedbugs mean.”
I knew Sarah would be angry at me
for interfering in her life when I waited up for her and had to persuade her to
strip off her clothes and put them in a plastic bag. I’m a city girl, terrified and disgusted by
bugs. I wouldn’t be able to sleep until
I knew for sure whether Jake was infested and if the inspector and his bug
sniffing dog would have to come to us too.
promised to call me the next day after Jake’s apartment has been inspected.
and turned, and finally Sarah came home and I explained the situation by
comparing the bedbug problem to a highly contagious illness.
screamed back a barrage of why questions: “Why can’t I hang up my pretty dress?
Don’t you understand that it’s CLEAN? Why are you interfering in my life?” Then there was the ultra-dramatic: “Why won’t
you ever let me see Jake?”
explaining that the problem was temporary, Sarah finally went to sleep. I tried to count sheep and slow my breathing,
but all I could think about were bugs and more bugs, multiplying in the nooks
and crannies of my bed.
turned out that Jake had “evidence” of bedbugs. My stomach did a somersault. Daniel offered to send over the inspector and
a dog to my home as soon as his own apartment had been inspected.
first good news was that no bed bugs were found at Daniel’s apartment. When the
bed bug inspector arrived at my house, he was frighteningly thorough. He showed me what a bedbug looked like inside
a vial, in case—heaven forbid!—I should happen to see one. He told me it resembled an apple seed, but I saw
a black, malevolent insect whose mission in life was to reproduce and bite me
when—and if—I fell asleep. This inspector was so meticulous he even went
so far as to put “a tester” in one bathroom to be sure his dog was “paying
attention.” Then I was sent to wait in
my kitchen where I held my breath and cowered, while his Pekingese mix sniffed
every inch of every wall.
evidence of bedbugs,” he concluded. I
started to breathe normally and thanked him.
If I hadn’t been so exhausted and sleep deprived, I would have jumped
for joy. What a relief to know I could
finally close my eyes without worrying about a colony of mini-vampires crawling
out to bite me after dark. Even better, Jake and Sarah could resume their
romance that much sooner with only one small apartment to fumigate instead of three.
we avoided the bed bug debacle (this time).
But when you love a child on the autistic spectrum, sooner or later--one way or another--you’re going to find yourself going buggy.
Labels: Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autistic spectrum, bedbugs, dating, exterminators, insects, learning disabilities, New York City, pests, weight control, working dogs, young adults with disabilities