“The Man” — A Story About Aspergers & Empathy

Empathy is not a word usually associated with Aspergers. Most of what you read says that people with Aspergers are insensitive to others’ feelings because they cannot empathize. But that’s not always true.

For my previous post about Aspergers and Empathy, read
“Not Enough Empathy? or Too Much Empathy?”

My child’s empathy for others pops up when I least expect, like one fall afternoon when the leaves were changing from gorgeous green to bright yellow and brilliant orange.

We lived only a block from school, so it was unusual that Spider-Man and I would drive the minivan to pick up Trio Man from half-day kindergarten. But today we had a doctor appointment shortly after school, so we drove.

Once we picked up Trio Man, we had a short drive on the highway through spaghetti junction with all its road construction and exited at Xerxes Avenue. At the top of the exit was a 20-something young man with a sign that said, “Absolute Desperation.”

Trio Man asked, “Why does that man have a sign that says, ‘Absolute Desperation’?”

Such a big question to answer for a kindergartner.

“He’s probably homeless, Sweetheart, and doesn’t have a mom who can cook for him. He’s holding the sign because he’s asking for help from the people stopping at the traffic light.”

“We should help him,” Trio Man said.

I reminded Trio Man that we were going to the grocery store and asked if he would like to buy something for the man. “Yes,” he said, so we talked about what we should get the man to eat.

Trio Man picked out cookies, a sandwich, and 2 bottles of water. He put the items in a plastic bag separate from our grocery items and carried it to the van. We had to leave for the doctor’s office and trusted that the man would still be at the exit after our appointment.

But he wasn’t!

Trio Man was very upset. We had to find “the man.”

I was sad that we couldn’t find the man, but I was starting to run my mommy to-do list through my head. We had another meal delivery to make. This one was to a church family who had just had a baby. So I told Trio Man that after we did the errand, we’d look for “the man” or someone else holding a sign.

Well, there was no finding someone else, only “the man”!

Trio Man didn’t understand, of course, that there were many men–and women–who had no homes. So we talked about that. I even explained how his uncle was once homeless.

After we delivered the meal to the family, we went back to the intersection of Crosstown and Xerxes Avenue–still no “man.”

Trio Man was very upset.
Spider-Man, who was about 18 months old, was hungry and wanting out of the van.
It was rush hour now.
I needed to be at home making dinner.

Looking for “the man” was not in the plan.

I considered trying the 35W-Diamond Lake exit because there were often panhandlers there, but it was rush hour and we’d have to go through all the construction mess. I was desperate to find any man holding a sign.

Then an idea popped into my head, so I called my husband:

“Are you on your way home?”
“I’ve been home and left again!”
“While out, have you seen anyone with a sign asking for help?”
“Yes, I just saw a man with a sign that said, ‘Absolute Desperation.'”
“That’s the man we’re looking for! Where did you see him?”
“At Crosstown and Penn Avenue.”

“The Man” had moved down one exit. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

We had to make a big circle to get to Penn Avenue and then we had to use the Wagner’s Garden Center parking lot to turn around, but we got to the man.

I’m sure we annoyed the drivers behind us when we stopped at a green light.

I gave “The Man” the bag that Trio Man had put together for him.

The Man was so appreciative! He took the bag to the side of the road and looked in. By this time, the light was red, so we were still there. When he saw what was inside the bag, he turned back to us with a smile and waved again to say, “thanks!” I waved back. As we pulled away, I said to Trio Man:

“Sweetheart, see how happy you made that man?”

Trio Man was not emotional. He just seemed to be watching, almost like he was watching a TV show.

“Uh huh.”

“Trio Man, I’m proud of you. And you should be proud of yourself.”

“I’m proud of you, too, Mom.”


“Because you called Dad to find out where the man was.”

I cried. All. The. Way. Home.

2 Corinthians 9:12-13a says:
The service you are offering helps God’s people with their needs, but that is not all it does. It is also bringing more and more thanks to God. This service is a proof of your faith, and people will praise God because of it.

Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of being involved in Trio Man’s growing compassion for others. Amen!

And now we keep Manna Bags with us in the car to hand out to the homeless whenever we see them. You can, too! Learn more about how to make Manna Bags!

Shared with Trio Man’s permission.
(This story took place in Minneapolis, Richfield, and Edina, Minnesota.)