Many people with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s syndrome display many episodes in which they try to do the right thing, but it turns out they’re doing the wrong thing. As well, they often make mistakes when they didn’t even know they did anything bad. While most people, even neurotypical (normally functioning) people commit such mistakes, this is particularly common in people with Asperger’s.

The following are examples of such episodes.

1) Many people with autism have great difficulty judging by people’s voice tones whether or not it is all right to join in a conversation. Such was the case with Raymond, a teenager with Asperger’s. In the summer he was fourteen, he helped his father and stepmother Nancy move from Arizona to Missouri (Raymond lived with his mother in Colorado and he visited with his father and Nancy every summer, Christmas, and Easter). They moved to Missouri in July and Raymond’s dad and Nancy stayed in a condo until they moved into their new house the following January. Well, one day the following summer when Raymond, now fifteen, was visiting with his dad and Nancy, a lady came to their house. She turned out to be the Avon lady and she had come to discuss business with Nancy. At one point, the Avon lady asked Nancy when she and her husband moved into their new house. Nancy replied, “We moved into our house on January 15th.” Raymond, who was in the dining room (there was no wall between the dining room and the living room) announced, “We moved into this town last July and my dad and Nancy stayed in a condo for six months!”

After the Avon lady left, Nancy told Raymond in an angry voice that he had been extremely rude. Raymond stated that he just wanted to join in the conversation. Nancy gave him a good lecture about how it was none of his business, and that he was fifteen years old and should know better than to meddle in things like that. But the problem was Raymond couldn’t tell that their guest had been a business lady. It could have been a friend coming over for coffee. Even adults talking about sad things, like someone’s sick children, could have been casual talk during which it was OK to joke around.

2) Adam, who also had Asperger’s, went to Britain by himself when he was 23 years old. He took a solo tour of London, England, Wales, and Scotland, and then went to visit with relatives in Nottinghamshire, in the East Midlands. He had a very good relationship with his cousin Max, who was in his forties (though he had equally good relationships with his other relatives, too). However, on the day Adam was to fly back to Edmonton, Alberta, where he lived, Max wanted to drive him to Heathrow Airport, because Max liked going there to watch the airplanes. He was obsessed with motor vehicles. But who would have thought that? Adam protested with Max against driving him, and that he was planning on taking the train to the airport instead, because he wanted to save Max time and energy and not make extra work for him. Adam didn’t want to feel guilty about using Max. But Max really wanted to drive Adam to the airport because he wanted to see him off and, as I said before, he liked to drive there himself to watch the airplanes. As it turned out, Max drove Adam and saw him off. However, Max’s feelings were hurt. He suspected that Adam didn’t like him and he mentioned that to Adam’s parents. They understood Adam perfectly, though, and knew how much he’d meant well. So when Adam wrote a thank-you note to his relatives in England for their nice time, he mentioned to Max what his intentions had been, and he, too, understood.

3) Julie was 33 years old and had Asperger’s syndrome. She lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and had a young penpal named Erika, who also had Asperger’s and lived in Massachusetts. Erika was eleven. The two were very fond of each other. They mostly communicated by e-mail and Julie was also very good friends with Erika’s mom, Treena. Well, one day, Julie and Erika were talking on the phone. Erika’s biggest worry was that her mother would force her to take gymnastics. She didn’t want to be in gymnastics because she had heard about a lot of kids who were “different” getting bullied in those gymnastics classes. So a few days later, Julie e-mailed Treena about Erika’s fear of being in gymnastics so that Treena would encourage her daughter that she wouldn’t force her to join, and that Erika wouldn’t be worried anymore. Unfortunately, Treena was the sort of person who felt that kids should be forced to do things if they were scared of them, so that they would get over it. But Julie didn’t know this. And so, she got a call from Erika, who was in tears, saying that her mom was forcing her to take gymnastics. And then Erika had to endure bullying by her fellow gymnastics students for one night a week. Fortunately, though, when it became evident that Erika was being bullied, her mom let her quit, which was about two months later, for Treena couldn’t stand it when kids bullied her daughter. And after that, when Erika told Julie about being worried that her mom would force her to do things, Julie would e-mail Treena and mention related incidents from her own past, as well as those she had witnessed herself. That seemed to help a lot, and Erika wasn’t forced to do those things.

4) Courtney was eight years old and had Asperger’s. One day, a family whose seventeen-year-old daughter Heather babysat her frequently, was over visiting. Heather’s mother, Vicki, talked to Courtney’s mom about Heather falling off her bicycle and grazing her arms and knees. Courtney asked Vicki, “Did Heather cry?” Vicki replied yes. Later, Courtney’s mom took Courtney aside and told her in a reasonable, though not angry, voice that it was not appropriate to ask questions like that, because it “made people embarrassed”. She stated that “it was personal”. Courtney was embarrassed out of her wits. She had no idea that it was inappropriate to ask questions like that. She thought she had asked a very reasonable question.

5) Here is another example of asking an inappropriate question. One day Jared, an eight-year-old with Asperger’s, and his parents and sister, were staying in a motel. A person knocked at the door and who should it be but the cleaning person (it was early afternoon). This person had short, dark hair, and looked like neither a man nor a woman. So Jared went up to this person and asked, “Are you a man or a woman?” The person looked embarrassed and Jared’s mom looked at Jared sternly and said, “Jared! Shhhhhh!” Jared asked, “Was I too loud?” And his mom whispered in his ear, “You do not ask people that kind of question. That’s very rude!” But Jared had no idea that that was not acceptable in society. He thought he’d asked a reasonable question. By the way, the person told Jared her name was Laureen. So it was a woman.

6) Many people with Asperger’s also don’t know certain rules of society that other people their age have known for some time. For example, Wade, who was sixteen years old, lived in a small Midwestern town. One evening, he was going out on a date with a girl named Carla (Wade had asked Carla out). They were going bowling. Well, Wade had no idea that it was customary for boys to pay for their dates; thus, he assumed that Carla had money too. When they got to the bowling alley and were ready to pay, Wade had money, but to his horror, Carla had none with her, and Wade didn’t have any money for her. So Carla decided she’d call her parents if they couldn’t bowl. It didn’t even occur to Wade that they could just go for a walk or something like that.
Within half an hour, Wade and Carla were back in their own homes. Wade asked Carla out several more times, but she never said yes again. But Wade wasn’t trying to be selfish. He just didn’t know that it was customary for boys to pay for dates.

As well, many people with autism and Asperger’s may answer others in whiny or plaintive voices without meaning to, such as when someone invites them to do something and they don’t want to, or if someone is standing in front of the TV. They may say “No, thank you” or “Please don’t stand in front of the TV” in displeasing voices, but they thought they talked in normal voice tones. They weren’t trying to sound nasty. They were trying to be polite.