Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger's

John Elder Robison's younger brother is Augusten Burroughs, author of the acclaimed memoir Running With Scissors. Burroughs' memoir details his father's descent into alcoholism and his mother's increasingly debilitating mental illness. John Elder Robison, the author of Look Me in the Eye, was absent for most of Augusten's childhood, as he was older and had fled the family for a life of independence and adventure. He always had trouble relating to people, however, and was considered by others to be strange and sometimes rude, yet brilliant in electronics and automotives. Look Me in the Eye details Robison's amazing life, including stints designing custom guitars for heavy metal band KISS, electronic toys for Milton Bradley, and finally running his own luxury car repair service. Robison also describes his difficulty with people, his inability to look people in the eye (hence the memoir's title), and his habit of giving people names (he calls his wife Unit Two). Robison was finally diagnosed with Asperger's when we was forty years old, and he describes it as a lightbulb going off in his head, giving him a name for the condition he'd been struggling with his entire life. There is no cure for Asperger's, but he has learned the social skills necessary for maintaining friendships and other relationships. This makes it much easier for him to deal with people, even though he says he still comes off as a little strange. One of the most illuminating comments for me was that he emphasizes that although people on the autism spectrum seem to want to be alone all the time, when he was a child he wanted desperately to be with others: he just didn't know how. Look Me in the Eye is an invaluable addition to the repertoire of literature on Asperger's and autism because, since it is actually written by someone with the disability, it provides great insight into the hearts and minds of people who may not be able to speak out on their own. Although a bit long in parts, Look Me in the Eye is engaging and original. 3 1/2 out of 4 Bananas!

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee

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