The Real Tragedy of Tough Love; Agony Aunt Barbara Jacobs Tells EMMA JOHNSON about the Reality of Living with Someone with Asperger's Syndrome

Article excerpt


WHEN she first met Danny Wheeler, Barbara Jacobs was fascinated. She knew he was `weird' but his oddness intrigued her.

His approach,in a bar in Spain had hardly been typical - he told her bluntly that he wanted to have sex with her. But he won her over and she embarked on a rocky four year affair.

At 32 Danny was 20 years younger than Barbara but the Prescot-born agony aunt and novelist, now 57, pushed aside any misgivings.

But she discovered the quirky habits which first captivated her were symptoms of the common yet little known neurological disorder Asperger's Syndrome.

Barbara laughs when she says that going up to somebody and bluntly telling them you want to sleep with them is not the sort of chat- up line you hear every day.

But she adds: ``I thought it was really funny. I knew Danny was not completely normal. There was always something weird about him.''

Barbara,a psychologist,has now written a book called Loving Mr Spock (a reference to the lack of emotional understanding in Asperger's sufferers) about life with Danny.

She says: ``He had no social graces at all. He couldn't understand simple things like taking turns to speak in a conversation. At first I thought he might be schizophrenic but he had too much of a hold on reality for that.

``At his worst, he would `hide' from me. When we were apart he would just disappear. He would turn his phone off and stay in bed. He would pretend to be asleep for 48 even 72 hours.

``Every moment of every day was an effort for Danny. All the things that we instinctively do, like answering when we are asked a question, took so much effort for him.''

Barbara began to suspect he might be autistic after seeing him standing on one leg in a position she had seen adopted by an autistic child some years earlier.

She contacted the National Autistic Society who confirmed her fears. They also sent her a checklist on which Danny met 80% of the criteria.

Named after the Austrian academic Hans Asperger, who identified the condition in the late 1980s, Asperger's Syndrome affects some three-in-200 people - four times as many men as women. It is thought to be genetic but many cases are never diagnosed.

The condition was highlighted recently during the court case of Birkenhead postmaster, William Ainscow, whose 31-year-old daughter, Lisa, has Asperger's Syndrome. He admitted a pounds 50,000 fraud saying he was driven to steal from his employers to fund her demands.

The autistic character played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rainman - for which he won an Oscar - showed all the symptoms of a person with asperger's. …