'Love and Asperger's' a memoir on moving forward together - Albuquerque Journal

‘Love and Asperger’s’ a memoir on moving forward together

Mary A. Johnson neatly entwines several seemingly disparate strands in her new book – a love story, memoir and perhaps even a case study of Asperger’s Syndrome.

The book is “Love and Asperger’s: Jim and Mary’s Excellent Adventure – A Memoir.”

Early in the book, the Albuquerque author shares her recollections of the stages of her life before meeting Jim Hanks at the age of 72.

Then Mary introduces Jim, who was 75 when they met. Over three chapters, Jim describes his life before meeting Mary. The descriptions are in Jim’s own words, as he wrote them to Mary in emails during their courtship.

These chapters about Jim signal the start of Mary’s use of “retroactive analyses of Jim’s words and behaviors.” Her analyses appear in many italicized paragraphs through the book and refer to traits of Asperger’s, a set of communication and social idiosyncrasies at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

She references books and articles (and suggested readings) on Asperger’s and autism that are listed at the back of the book.

Mary A. Johnson

It wasn’t until 21 months into their marriage that Mary, a licensed professional clinical counselor, reveals to Jim that he probably has been living with Asperger’s.

“I was thinking, ‘How am I going to handle this marriage?’ I thought about divorce. Then it hit me like a 2-by-4. I was wondering why as a counselor I hadn’t figured it out earlier,” Mary said in a phone interview. “I have diagnosed clients with Asperger’s and sometimes they are angry or resentful (when informed). I didn’t know what (reaction) to expect from him.

“He was grateful for the diagnosis. He said, ‘Oh, there’s a name for it. I always wondered why I was different.’ ”

Mary said two of Jim’s Asperger’s traits stand out and are common with people with the syndrome. His lack of empathy and his bluntness. “He didn’t mind telling people what he thought. Sometime his statements were inappropriate because they hurt peoples’ feelings,” she said.

The first time she met Jim was at an airport. Mary recalled, “I expected a hug. Instead, the first words to me were, ‘You’re short!’ ”

She said he was receptive to her teaching him how to act better in social situations.

Mary writes that she should have alerted herself sooner to Jim’s Asperger’s. “But Jim Hanks was not my client and I was not looking to diagnose him. He was my husband and I loved him,” she writes.

As Mary asserts in the introduction, “Whatever else may be imparted to, or received by, the reader, I want the take away to be love. Without love, there would be no story and no book.”

They had met through the website eHarmony.com. Their love endured a long-distance courtship. Many memorable adventures together followed in almost seven years of marriage. Most of those years they lived in Pendleton, Oregon, where Jim was from, and the remaining months they lived in Albuquerque.

It was the second marriage for both.

Jim died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer. Mary provided him hospice care.

The previous year, Mary published “A Caregiver’s Guide: Insights into the Later Years.”

In bold face type, Mary advises readers of “Love and Asperger’s” not to use it as a diagnostic tool. Rather, they should see a licensed professional and be examined in person.

Johnson said she is open to do presentations on “Love and Asperger’s” to organizations that ask her. Her email address is maryabq@aol.com.

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