Friday, May 7, 2010

Look Me in the Eye

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison
John Elder never felt like he fit in. He yearned for friends but could never quite make or keep them. Children ran from him. Adults conversed with him. He possessed an oddly intelligent demeanor about him yet flunked out of school.

As a teenager, he found a niche in pyrotechtonics for the band, KISS. Although he enjoyed having friends, even friends who didn't question his non-social behavior, he wanted a more secure job.

In his early 20s, he lied about his education and was hired by Milton Bradley. He found a certain amount of success as an engineer. He had an affinity for machines. His Asperger's greatly helped him solve intricate problems with machines. However, as he advanced in his skills, he also advanced in the company management. Unfortunately, his people skills still lacked. He didn't like his job anymore and started an auto shop which suits him just fine.

With wit and clarity, the author describes his life and experiences through the eyes of an adult with Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (although Asperger's is not a 'disorder' but the way he is wired). The author leads us through his journey of dysfunctional family, no friends, to life on the road, homelessness, adulthood, and finally, understanding. 

Although unnatural to his logical mind, John has rewired his thinking patterns so he can interact with others in a nearly normal manner. The book is enjoyable to read but difficult when the author describes the intricacies of his engineering work. This, however, is vital to the story, as it is the way people with Asperger's see the world; as functioning and logical things.

John Elder Robison sums up his first 50 years in the following way:

I may look and act pretty strange at times, but deep down I just want to be loved and understood for who and what I am. I want to be accepted as part of society, not an outcast or an outsider. I don't want to be a genius or a freak or something on display. I wish for empathy and compassion from those around me, and I appreciate sincerity, clarity, and logicality in other people. I believe most people - autistic or not - share this wish. And now, with my newfound insight, I'm on the way to achieving that goal.


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