Sunday, May 15, 2016

Look Me in the Eye

John Elder Robison is eight years older than his brother Augusten Burroughs, but it was from Burroughs's 2002 Running with Scissors that the world first learned of the extraordinarily troubled family in which the brothers were brought up. Encouraged by Burroughs to share his own memories of being raised by an alcoholic father and a mentally unstable mother, Robison did so in 2008 with Look Me in the Eye, a memoir in which he gives an insider's account of what it is like to suffer from a form of autism called Asperger's syndrome.

Robison was already forty years old by the time he learned that he was, as he puts it, an Aspergian. Common symptoms of the syndrome include the inability to look someone in the eye when speaking to them, being unable to participate in a conversation at all if anything else catches their attention while they are speaking, non-appropriate facial expressions or body language in social situations, failure to develop peer relationships with other children, and occasional “rare gifts” like “truly extraordinary insight into complex problems.” Robison was somewhat shocked to learn that there were other people out there like him – so many of them, in fact, that the rest of the world even had a name for them.

John Elder Robinson
John Robison, from the time he was a child, liked other children and badly wanted to be part of the gang. But rather than being made a part of any neighborhood gang, Robison most often found himself on the outside looking in, always the last to be chosen for team sports and games - if chosen at all. Unable to respond socially appropriately when given half a chance to become part of the action, he made other children so uneasy that they wanted nothing to do with him. Robison, though, is one of the luckier Aspergians, and has the kind of offsetting talents that others of us can only dream about. Not only was he the developer of the exploding, laser-firing guitars that helped to make the band KISS famous, he was instrumental in the production of the early electronic game modules that made Milton Bradley for a time the most recognizable toy company name to children all over the world.

Look Me in the Eye is fascinating because of the insights offered into an autism variation that until recent years has drawn little attention. What makes the book truly exceptional, however, is that these insights are coming from someone who has experienced the syndrome first hand, a man with a surprising storytelling ability and a well-defined sense of humor that contribute one memorable and entertaining story after another. I found myself telling some of Robison's stories to friends even before I finished reading the entire book because I was anxious to recommend it to others as quickly as I could. Look Me in the Eye is simply not to be missed.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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