I. Is This What Love Is?
The first night he slept with her, entwined with her on his futon, Jack Robison 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 was 19 and has a form of autism sometimes called Asperger syndrome, her mind was uncannily like his. She was also, he thought, beautiful.
So far, they had only cuddled; Jack 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 drew back. If he knew she was disappointed, he showed no sign.
On that fall day, Kirsten, an 18-year-old college freshman, 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. Only later would she recognize that her own lifelong troubles—bullying by fellow students, anger from teachers and emotional meltdowns beyond her power to control—were clues that she, too, occupied a spot on what is known as the autism spectrum.
Still, she found comfort in Jack’s lack of artifice. If he did not always say what she wanted to hear, she knew that whatever he did say, he meant. After he dropped her off on campus that morning, she reread an e-mail he had sent, describing their brief courtship with characte...