Forget the 9-year-old whose Mom lets him ride the subway alone: On October 15, 13-year-old Francisco Hernandez, Jr. left a classroom where he’d gotten into trouble and hung out in the subways for 11 days. It sounds like a more extreme version of a familiar runaway story, but the Times explains up front that Hernandez has Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes him prey to obsessive, “eccentric” behavior — like many other teenagers, in other words, only clinical. He didn’t ask adults for help, which struck us as admirable independence, but the Times adds that Hernandez, the son of Mexican immigrants, has some trouble with English, which discouraged him from seeking assistance from others…
While local publications put out the word, posters were posted, and family and friends scoured the neighborhood, Hernandez seems to have gotten on reasonably well. He used his bookbag as a pillow, the $10 he had on him to buy snack food at platform concessions, and the bathroom at the Stillwell Avenue station, and rode the D, F, and 1 trains. A cop who happened to be studying Hernandez’s missing-person picture came upon him on a D train platform, and fetched him home.
The Times does the best it can with the story, but Hernandez is understandably not talkative. “Nobody really cares about the world and about people,” seems to be his summation. Again, he sounds like a normal teenager. The grown-ups fret about his condition and his problems, but they always do that. Maybe someday Hernandez will look back on this as a great adventure. Maybe he looks at it that way now.
Update: It should be mentioned that a previous Times story revealed that the doctors who are revising the DSM-V manual of psychological conditions are considering removing Asperger’s as a diagnosis. They suggest what gets called Asperger’s is often a “mild autistic disorder” and that the use of autism subtypes is unhelpful. They may expect some pushback as, one distinguished autistic scientist says, “The Asperger community is a big vocal community.”