I just finished reading John Elder Robison’s book, look me in the eye: my life with asperger’s, and I was blown away at times at the stories he told. John Robison was diagnosed with Asperger’s in his 40s, after years of being labeled a “misfit” or weird or some other term.
Robison tells of growing up with Asperger’s, and how not knowing was both good and not so good. Not so good because nobody had any idea why he behaved the way he did, and had difficulty fitting in with his peers. He tells of troubles with abusive parents, dropping out of high school, and his interest in electronics that led him to work with the band KISS, and many other tales. The good of his growing up with Asperger’s and not knowing it is that he was able to explore what interested him the most, and it led him on many interesting adventures and helped him pull many pranks, most of which did not go over too well.
There are two parts/antecdotes in his book that really stuck with me. One comes in chapter 3, titled “Empathy.” Robison tells of an instance where his mother had a friend over to their house, and the friend was explaining how a boy that lived in their town had been killed when he was hit by a train. John smiled when he heard that, leading the friend to ask him if he thought it was funny; he left the room embarrassed but not knowing why he could not react any differently. He tells how he knows now why he smiled that day, and takes us through his likely train of thought: “Someone got killed. Wow! I’m glad I didn’t get killed. I’m glad Varmint (his name for his little brother) or my parents didn’t get killed. I’m glad all my friends are okay. He must have been a pretty dumb kid, playing on the train tracks. I would never get run over by a train like that. I’m glad I’m okay.”* His smile that day came from a train of thought that concluded that nobody he cared about was hurt, and he was happy about that, not happy about the little boy being killed. The second part that stuck with me came in chapter 20, titled “Logic vs. Small Talk.” John goes in depth regarding his difficulties making small talk and idle chatter just for the sake of talking. He believes that “normal” people partake in small talk only for superficial reasons, and that since most people don’t undertand the conversational difficulties of those with Asperger’s, they assume that Aspergians are rude when they do not participate in small talk. He gives a good example: “A person with an obvious disability-for example, someone in a wheelchair-is treated compassionately because his handicap is obvious. No one turns to a guy in a wheelchair and says, “Quick! Let’s run across the street!” And when he can’t run across the street, no one says, “What’s his problem? They offer to help him across the street.”** With Robison, and most Aspergians, there is no external sign of conversational disability, thus people chalk them up to being rude or insensitive. This is something I know Kaitlyn will face in her life because she has little interest in minor details like when I ask how her day was.
John Robison’s book really does offer some wonderful insight to life with Asperger’s. While some people will choose to never understand some of the difficulties an Aspergian faces, they will also never understand the amazing contributions an Aspergian can make if given room to grow and focus on what interests them the most. The “normal” society wants everybody to be the same and think alike, and has trouble when people rock the boat or think outside the box.
If you are looking for a good read from an Asperger’s insider, check out this book. You will not be sorry, and you might even gain some insight into Aspergians.
*Robison, John, look me in the eye: my life with asperger’s, page 29.
**Robison, John, look me in the eye: my life with asperger’s, page 194