Author tells of his life with Asperger’s

  John Elder Robison — brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of “Running with Scissors” — writes about growing up with Asperger’s before there was such a diagnosis in his memoir, “Look Me in the Eye,” which is now out in paperback.
  I’ve never read “Running with Scissors” and I don’t, or at least didn’t, know a lot about Asperger’s, a form of autism, but after reading the book I have a clearer understanding of the syndrome.
  As a child, John Elder had trouble making friends. He couldn’t look people in the eye and rarely smiled. He never sat still, always moving, yet was not athletic. And worst of all, for him, he struggled with social interaction, not understanding other people’s emotions or being able to communicate his own. No one knew what was wrong with him, just that he was different.
  “I was, as my brother said, raised without a diagnosis. It was a lonely and painful way to grow up.”
  Robison does a terrific job depicting how painful and isolating ridicule can be for a child, and even an adult. I think that isolation is a feeling most people who ever were picked on can relate to, whether they were picked on for being fat, having acne or having Asperger’s.
  “I stopped trying with any of the kids. The more I was rejected, the more I hurt inside and the more I retreated.”
  As I was reading I did feel like Robison’s childhood didn’t differ from a lot of kids who didn’t have Asperger’s, but of course, he didn’t know that at the time. Robison’s communication abilities grow tremendously as he ages. He learns to adapt himself in social situations. A hard-won triumph for him. He also puts to work his Asperger’s given abilities — being mechanically inclined. He goes on the road with KISS and builds special-effects guitars for Ace Frehley. He is able to get a job as a sound engineer without going to college. He later starts his own automobile repair business known for its restoration and customization work.
  Given all that, it seems to me Robison has done pretty well for himself. He states upfront that not everyone with Asperger’s can function as well. He says the syndrome exists along a continuum. “Some people exhibit the symptoms to such a degree that their ability to function alone in society is seriously impaired. Others, like me, are affected mildly enough that they can make their own way, after a fashion.”
  Later in the book, after finding a lot of professional success, Robison says he still has trouble communicating.
  “I am tongue-tied when approaching people unless they speak to me first. If I do speak up, I often say something that’s taken as rude or surprising — especially when I’ve told people something true that they don’t want to hear.”
  Again, I thought his challenges aren’t that different from other people’s, maybe more severe, but certainly relatable. Robison came to the same conclusion.
  “When I wrote ‘Look Me in the Eye,’ I wanted to show readers what it was like to grow up feeling like a freak or a misfit. I thought my book would show how people with Asperger’s are different from everyone else. To my great surprise, my book actually shows the opposite: Deep down, people are very much the same.”
  Ultimately, this book offers insight to Asperger’s and shows that those with the syndrome can change and grow. But the real beauty of the book is seeing just how much John Elder wanted to be loved and accepted, even in his awkward silences. He describes that though the outward reactions of someone with autism may be puzzling, inside their feelings often are the same as other people’s. Outside their faces might be blank, but inside they are full of emotion. He longs for empathy and compassion from others and leaves the reader with one last wish.
  “I hope you’ll keep those thoughts in mind the next time you meet someone who looks or acts a little strange.”

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