Thursday, October 16, 2008

Look Me In The Eye: An Inside Look at Asperger's

Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison, is an insightful and fun book for parents of kids on the autism spectrum, as well as older teens. It’s also an easy way for others, such as teachers, caregivers and extended family members, to connect with and understand the unique ways that people on the spectrum may be thinking. The author does a great job of relating the events of his life from an observer’s perspective, while explaining his internal thought process at the same time. Many parents already understand how their kids are thinking, but it can be difficult for others with less familiarity with the autism spectrum.
The author first achieved a small amount of fame when his brother, Augusten Burroughs, wrote about him in his own book, Running With Scissors. Burroughs then encouraged Robison to write his own memoir about growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s. The result is Look Me In The Eye. Look Me In the Eye is that great combination of funny and entertaining, while giving the reader a close up viewpoint about what it was like to grow up feeling different, misunderstood and like a misfit. Robison writes about his childhood and adult life, and he’s introspective and forthcoming about what was going on for him as he tried to figure out how to make friends, follow social rules and use his impressive intellectual gifts.
One interesting chapter is early in the book, where Robison discusses his earliest friendships. It’s heartbreaking to see the problems he has in connecting with other children in spite of his well meaning, friendly advances. Robison clearly points out his own limited way of thinking, for example, he couldn’t conceive of the fact that there might be more than one way to play in the dirt. His preschool attempts to make a friend are rejected when he can’t pick up on the cues his companion is sending, something many parents are all too familiar with in watching their own children.
Robison also discusses how he makes some slight behavioral changes after learning of his diagnosis. He worked on making more eye contact, followed more neurotypical rules for conversation, and made more small talk. His result was that he suddenly made a lot more friends and was included in social functions. At the same time, Robison doesn’t give up his quirky personality. He’s unusual and brilliant, and seems to succeed professionally and personally because of that. Maybe that’s the best part of this book. While taking a clear and honest look at the problems the autism spectrum may bring, the gifts of autism are even more apparent.