Passing for Normal – An Asperger Success Story

Louis rode on the PATH and concentrated hard on acting normal. He made sure not to rock back and forth, or stare at someone he found interesting or talk to himself. His job coach had trained him how to not do any of those things, even though the urge was always there.

“Once people get to know you they will like you.  But first you have to work very hard to fit in, so that they want to get to know you, ” the coach had said.

Louis did not realize that no one on the PATH train would have actually said anything, even if he was acting strange. Louis was big and very muscular; the type people would instinctively not interfere with.

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In fact, despite his looks Louis was a very gentle soul. He was naturally big, and his job coach had encouraged him to work out at a gym. “People in good shape have an easier time getting hired,” the coach had said. “If someone looks sloppy or overweight people doing the hiring naturally think that shows a lack of discipline and they don’t want to hire that person.”

Louis had joined a health club, but had a lot of trouble at first.  Like most people with Asperger’s Syndrome, he was a little clumsy and uncoordinated.  He had trouble with the various machines, and almost gave up after a couple of trips. Then he discovered the free weights and found they were very simple to use. He just watched what the other guys did and began to really like the routine and repetition.

weights

He went to the health club at exactly the same time every day, and worked out with weights. Over the months he became extremely muscular, but that was not why he continued.  He liked the pattern.  Sticking to exact routines was how Lois coped with the stress of his existence. He had striven to replace “strange” routines like rocking or talking to himself with routines that “normal” people do like taking the train at exactly the same time every day and doing the exact same work-out routine every time at the health club. More than anything else in his life Louis wanted to fit in with the Normal people.

At the World Trade Center station, Louis got off, followed the crowd up the escalator and headed over to West Street. At 200 West Street he entered the new Goldman Sachs building for work.

Goldman Sachs

Louis loved his job at Goldman Sachs. The previous year the company had made a big push to hire special needs people and Louis could hardly believe that he got hired. “Goldman Sachs is the top of the top Louis!”, beamed the job coach. “My training really paid off for you.”

The job coach and the special needs hiring may have been the reason Louis got hired, but the patterns were the reason he was so successful at Goldman Sachs. Louis could see patterns in the market data that no one else could. He sat and looked at all the many computer screens and monitors with their flashing numbers and graphs and could sense when there was going to be a sudden shift in a market.

At first the Traders did not believe him. They did not want to hear from the “big nut job” as they referred to  him. Then after a few months they started to notice how his market calls were better than anything else they had. Better than the computer programs, better than the Traders “gut feel” and better than the other market analysts who had been doing the job for many years. They stopped referring to him as the “big nut job” and started calling him “Golden Lou”.

At company parties the Traders would try to talk to Louis and get him drinks trying to find out his secrets.  Louis hated the parties. Being in a room with a lot of people you don’t know well, and having to make  small talk is about the most stressful situation a person with Asperger’s Syndrome can go through. Still Louis attended the parties so he could pass for normal.

Although Louis loved his job he still felt  nervous and uncomfortable around all the other workers – except for Victoria.

Louis thought Victoria was wonderful, although he was too shy to tell her. She was beautiful and nice. He loved that she always called him Louis. He never called him “Lou” or “Big Lou” of “Golden Lou”or “Louie”.   She was never loud or obnoxious and never swore. Unfortunately, he knew that she never really noticed him.

In fact, Louis was wrong about Victoria. Louis could read markets perfectly, but other humans, especially women, were a mystery to him. Victoria actually liked Louis very much. She thought he was handsome and intelligent and  she understood why he had trouble fitting in.  But Victoria herself was also very shy, and did not know exactly how to approach him.

Then one day  Louis did something very uncharacteristic. Instead of  eating lunch at his desk he went  out to Godiva and purchased a box of dark semi-sweet chocolates.  He knew that it was Victoria’s birthday, and that she loved semi-sweet chocolates. He was going to take a leap and give her the box.

Godiva

But when he got back to the office and went over to her desk, it was surrounded by three other young men. One of them had an iPad and everyone was laughing at a video they were watching. It was a video of Victoria in a bikini wearing a hat with devil’s horns. She was dancing around and singing in a terrible voice. The guy with the iPad was Jimmy, the office comedian.

Louis did not know what was going on, but he could see that Victoria was not enjoying the video.  The guys were all laughing, but at her desk Victoria had her head in her hands and looked like she was about  to cry.  “Please turn it off,” she said over and over.

Louis walked up behind the guy holding the iPad.  Louis put his massive hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, bent down and said quietly in the guy’s ear.  “She told you to turn it off .” Jimmy turned around and looked up to see the deadly serious face of Louis.

“Sure Lou. No problem.” Jimmy turned off the video and he and the other guys quickly slunk  back to their work stations.

Victoria looked up with tears in her eyes and said. “My ex-boyfriend posted it. We we fooling around at a pool party and I sang ‘She’s go the devil in her heart’ with that stupid hat on. He posted it just to be mean And on my birthday too. Then he emailed some of the people here giving them the link to it .”

In his Asperger monotone voice Louis said, “I would never be mean to you. Happy Birthday.” Then Louis placed the box of chocolates on the desk and started to walk away.

But Victoria motioned for him to sit at the chair next to her. She opened the box and said, “let’s share these.”

Louis sat down and took one of the chocolates. A strange feeling came over Louis, and he realized that it was something he had never felt before.  As he and Victoria ate the candy and Victoria told funny stories about her ex-boyfriend, Louis realized what the feeling was. He realized that for the first time in his life he was completely and totally at ease being with another person. He understood what it was like to actually be normal instead of just pretending.

 

 

 

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