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

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“As sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find.” —from the foreword by Augusten Burroughs

Ever since he was young, John Robison longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes ...

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

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“As sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find.” —from the foreword by Augusten Burroughs

Ever since he was young, John Robison longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” It was not until he was forty that he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way he saw himself—and the world. A born storyteller, Robison has written a moving, darkly funny memoir about a life that has taken him from developing exploding guitars for KISS to building a family of his own. It’s a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien yet always deeply human.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Even without medical diagnoses, John Elder Robison's youth was abnormal. His father was an abusive alcoholic; his mother was deeply mentally disturbed. Not surprisingly, John's grades foundered. Teachers and classmates were puzzled by his detachment and odd, almost mechanical responses. However atypical, Robison's behavior had a significant upside: he was exceptionally proficient with machines, circuits, and other systems. At the time, however, nobody recognized that he had Asperger's syndrome, a still controversial condition on the autistic spectrum. In fact, it was not until he was 40 that Robison was properly diagnosed. This unconventional, sometimes hilarious memoir reveals Asperger's as a fascinating human condition, not a horrifying psychological malady.
From the Publisher
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“An entertaining, provocative and highly-readable story by a great storyteller...you will rethink your own definition of normal, and it may spark a new appreciation of the untapped potential behind every quirky, awkward person who doesn’t quite fit in.”
New York Times blog

“Deeply felt and often darkly funny, Look Me in the Eye is a delight.”
People magazine (Critics Choice, 4 Stars)

“It's a fantastic life story (highlights include building guitars for KISS) told with grace, humor, and a bracing lack of sentimentality.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A highly entertaining, crazy ride...heartbreaking, inspiring and funny.”
Psychology Today

“Lean, powerful in its descriptive accuracy and engaging in its understated humor...Emotionally gripping.”
Chicago Tribune

“Robison’s lack of finesse with language is not only forgivable, but an asset to his story . . . His rigid sentences are arguably more telling of his condition than if he had created the most graceful prose this side of Proust.”
Chicago Sun-Times

Look Me in the Eye is a fantastic read that takes readers into the mind of an Aspergian both through its plot and through the calm, logical style in which Robison writes. . . Even if you have no personal connections with Asperger’ s, you’ll find that Robison—like his brother, Burroughs—has a life worth reading about.”
Daily Camera

“Not only does Robison share with his famous brother, Augusten Burroughs (Running With Scissors), a talent for writing; he also has that same deadpan, biting humor that's so irresistible.”
—ELLE magazine

“Dramatic and revealing...There's an endearing quality to Robison and his story that transcends the "Scissors" connection … Look Me in the Eye is often drolly funny and seldom angry or self-pitying. Even when describing his fear that he'd grow up to be a sociopathic killer, Robison brings a light touch to what could be construed as dark subject matter…Robison is also a natural storyteller and engaging conversationalist.”
The Boston Globe

“This is no misery memoir[Robison] is a gifted storyteller with a deadpan sense of humour and the book is a rollicking read.”
Times (UK)

Look Me in the Eye should be required reading for teachers and human services professionals, concerned parents and anyone who likes a well-crafted story of a life zestfully lived to the beat of wildly different drums.”
Bookreporter

“Robison's memoir is must reading for its unblinking (as only an Aspergian can) glimpse into the life of a person who had to wait decades for the medical community to catch up with him.”
Booklist

“Well-written and fascinating.” Library Journal

“Thoughtful and thoroughly memorable…Moving…In the end, Robison succeeds in his goal of “helping those who are struggling to grow up or live with Asperger’s” to see how it “is not a disease” but “a way of being” that needs no cure except understanding and encouragement from others.”
Publishers Weekly

“Affecting, on occasion surprisingly comic memoir about growing up with Asperger’s syndrome….The view from inside this little-understood disorder offers both cold comfort and real hope, which makes it an exceptionally useful contribution to the literature.”
 Kirkus Reviews

“Of course this book is brilliant; my big brother wrote it. But even if it hadn’t been created by my big, lumbering, swearing, unshaven ‘early man’ sibling, this is as sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find, utterly unspoiled, uninfluenced, and original.”
—from the foreword by Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors

Look Me In The Eye is a wonderful surprise on so many levels: it is compassionate, funny, and deeply insightful. By the end, I realized my vision of the world had undergone a slight but permanent alteration; I had taken for granted that our behavioral conventions were meaningful, when in fact they are arbitrary. That he is able to illuminate something so simple (but hidden, and unalterable) proves that John Elder Robison is at least as good a writer as he is an engineer, if not better.”
—Haven Kimmel (who was in attendance at the 1978 KISS tour*), author of A Girl Named Zippy

“I hugely enjoyed reading Look Me in the Eye. This book is a wild rollercoaster ride through John Robison’s life—from troubled teenage prankster to successful employment in electronics, music, and classic cars. A kindly professor introduced him to electrical engineering, which led to jobs where he found techie soulmates that were like him. A fascinating glimpse into the mind of an engineer which should be on the reading list of anyone who is interested in the human mind.”
—Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation

“John Robison's book is an immensely affecting account of a life lived according to his gifts rather than his limitations. His story provides ample evidence for my belief that individuals on the autistic spectrum are just as capable of rich and productive lives as anyone else.”
—Daniel Tammet, author of Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant

Publishers Weekly

Although this memoir deals with some dark topics-including Asperger's syndrome, family alcoholism and mental illness-debut author Robison maintains a keen humor and sense of dramatic irony throughout. The gravelly voiced Robison proves to be a capable storyteller, whether describing the pranks he used to play on his much younger brother (Augusten Burroughs, who reads his foreword) or the relief of finally being diagnosed with Asperger's in middle age after a lifetime of social isolation and relatively odd behaviors. Robison is a vocal and emphatic advocate for Asperger's, which he insists is not a disease but a different-and sometimes better-neurology. Asperger's gave Robison a single-minded ability to focus on his love of electronics, giving him a place in the world as the wizard behind Kiss's smoking and flaming guitars or, later in life, a gift for diagnosing and fixing high-end imported cars. This memoir is highly entertaining and the abridgment is smoothly edited. Simultaneous release with the Crown hardcover (Reviews, July 9). (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

First-time writer Robison diagnosed himself with Asperger's syndrome after receiving Tony Attwood's groundbreaking work on the subject from a therapist friend ten years ago. In his well-written and fascinating memoir, the fifty-something brother of Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors) addresses the difficultly of growing up in a household with an abusive and alcoholic father, the social problems he encountered at school, and his great affinity for mechanics. It made no difference that he lacked a high school diploma-Robison's natural skills landed him work as an automobile restorer, Milton Bradley engineer, and stagehand responsible for the pyrotechnic guitars used by rock band KISS in the late 1970s. Despite these successes, the author suffered social difficulties while developing his ability to connect with and understand machines, a thread that is explored in great detail. If there is a drawback here, it is that readers do not get a strong sense of how his self-diagnosis impacted his life. But even among the growing number of books written by those diagnosed later in life, this entry is easily recommended for public and academic libraries with autism collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/07.]
—Corey Seeman

Kirkus Reviews
Affecting, on occasion surprisingly comic memoir about growing up with Asperger's syndrome. Those who have this autism spectrum disorder are often seen as weird, because of their odd mannerisms and expressions and their difficulties in talking to other people. But Asperger's may also confer rare talents, such as the ability to focus intently and to think rapidly and creatively, notes the author, who wrote this text at the urging of younger brother Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors, 2002, etc.). A social misfit helped not at all by a battery of therapists, Robison admits that his behavior was decidedly disturbing, sometimes foolish and often dangerous. Asperger's can lead to a life of isolation, but the author credits interested adults with drawing him out as a child and keeping him engaged with human beings. He dropped out of high school at age 15 and left home at 16, impelled by a troubled family situation (alcoholic father, mentally disturbed mother) into the working world. While people were a mystery to him, machines were not. He became a self-taught sound engineer for rock bands and later a designer of electronic toys. The discovery at age 40 that his strangeness had a name altered Robison's view of himself, giving him a new confidence and enabling him to find more acceptable ways of coping with other people. He has learned to look them in the eye and even make small talk. His essays on choosing a wife and on naming people (he calls his spouse Unit Two, because she's a middle sister) suggest that the prankster in him still lives, but they also demonstrate the oddness of the Asperger's mind. Chapters on his son and on his late discovery of friendship are truly moving. The viewfrom inside this little-understood disorder offers both cold comfort and real hope, which makes it an exceptionally useful contribution to the literature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307396181
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/9/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 49,197
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Elder Robison

JOHN ELDER ROBISON is the New York Times bestselling author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different and Raising Cubby. He lectures widely on autism and neurological differences, and is a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services. John also serves on committees and review boards for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. A machinery enthusiast and avid photographer, John lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his family, animals, and machines.

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Read an Excerpt

1

A Little Misfit

It was inconceivable to me that there could be more than one way to play in the dirt, but there it was. Doug couldn't get it right. And that's why I whacked him. Bang! On both ears, just like I saw on The Three Stooges. Being three years old was no excuse for disorderly play habits.

For example, I would use my mother's kitchen spoon to scoop out a ditch. Then, I would carefully lay out a line of blue blocks. I never mixed my food, and I never mixed my blocks. Blue blocks went with blue blocks, and red blocks with red ones. But Doug would lean over and put a red block on top of the blue ones.

Couldn't he see how wrong that was?

After I had whacked him, I sat back down and played. Correctly.

Sometimes, when I got frustrated with Doug, my mother would walk over and yell at me. I don't think she ever saw the terrible things he did. She just saw me whack him. I could usually ignore her, but if my father was there, too, he would get really mad and shake me, and then I would cry.

Most of the time, I liked Doug. He was my first friend. But some of the things he did were just too much for me to handle. I would park my truck by a log, and he would kick dirt on it. Our moms would give us blocks, and he would heap his in a sloppy pile and then giggle about it. It drove me wild.

Our playdates came to an abrupt end the following spring. Doug's father graduated from medical school and they moved far, far away to an Indian reservation in Billings, Montana. I didn't really understand that he could leave despite my wishes to the contrary. Even if he didn't know how to play correctly, he was my only regular playmate. I was sad.

I asked my mother about him each time we went to the park, where I now played alone. "I'm sure he'll send you a postcard," my mother said, but she had a funny look on her face, and I didn't know what to make of it. It was troubling.

I did hear the mothers whispering, but I never knew what they meant.

". . . drowned in an irrigation ditch . . ."

". . . the water was only six inches deep . . ."

". . . must have fallen on his face . . ."

". . . his mother couldn't see him, so she went outside and found him there . . ."

What is an irrigation ditch? I wondered. All I could figure out was, they weren't talking about me. I had no idea Doug was dead until years later.

Looking back, maybe my friendship with Doug wasn't the best omen. But at least I stopped whacking other kids. Somehow I figured out that whacking does not foster lasting friendship.

That fall, my mother enrolled me at Philadelphia's Mulberry Tree Nursery School. It was a small building with kids' drawings on the walls and a dusty playground enclosed with a chain-link fence. It was the first place where I was thrown together with children I didn't know. It didn't go well.

At first, I was excited. As soon as I saw the other kids, I wanted to meet them. I wanted them to like me. But they didn't. I could not figure out why. What was wrong with me? I particularly wanted to make friends with a little girl named Chuckie. She seemed to like trucks and trains, just like me. I knew we must have a lot in common.

At recess, I walked over to Chuckie and patted her on the head. My mother had shown me how to pet my poodle on the head to make friends with him. And my mother petted me sometimes, too, especially when I couldn't sleep. So as far as I could tell, petting worked. All the dogs my mother told me to pet had wagged their tails. They liked it. I figured Chuckie would like it, too.

Smack! She hit me!

Startled, I ran away. That didn't work, I said to myself. Maybe I have to pet her a little longer to make friends. I can pet her with a stick so she can't smack me. But the teacher intervened.

"John, leave Chuckie alone. We don't hit people with sticks."

"I wasn't hitting her. I was trying to pet her."

"People aren't dogs. You don't pet them. And you don't use sticks."

Chuckie eyed me warily. She stayed away for the rest of the day. But I didn't give up. Maybe she likes me and doesn't know it, I thought. My mother often told me I would like things I thought I wouldn't, and sometimes she was right.

The next day, I saw Chuckie playing in the big sandbox with a wooden truck. I knew a lot about trucks. And I knew she wasn't playing with her truck correctly. I would show her the right way. She will admire me and we will be friends, I thought. I walked over to her and took the truck away and sat down.

"Miss Laird! John took my truck!"

That was fast!

"I did not! I was showing her how to play with it! She was doing it wrong!" But Miss Laird believed Chuckie, not me. She led me away and gave me a truck of my own. Chuckie didn't follow. But tomorrow was another day. Tomorrow, I would succeed in making friends.

When tomorrow came, I had a new plan. I would talk to Chuckie. I would tell her about dinosaurs. I knew a lot about dinosaurs, because my father took me to the museum and showed me. Sometimes I had scary dreams about them, but overall, dinosaurs were the most interesting thing I knew of.

I walked over to Chuckie and sat down.

"I like dinosaurs. My favorite is the brontosaurus. He's really big."

Chuckie did not respond.

"He's really big but he just eats plants. He eats grass and trees.

"He has a long neck and a long tail."

Silence.

"He's as big as a bus.

"But an allosaurus can eat him."

Chuckie still didn't say anything. She looked intently at the ground, where she was drawing in the sand.

"I went to see the dinosaurs at the museum with my dad.

"There were little dinosaurs, too.

"I really like dinosaurs. They're neat!"

Chuckie got up and went inside. She had completely ignored me!

I looked down at the ground where she had been staring. What was she looking at that was so interesting? There was nothing there.

All my attempts to make friends had failed. I was a failure. I began to cry. Alone in the corner of the playground, I sobbed and smashed the toy truck into the ground again and again and again, until my hands hurt too much to do it anymore.

At the end of recess, I was still there, sitting by myself. Staring into the dirt. Too humiliated to face the other kids. Why don't they like me? What's wrong with me? That was where Miss Laird found me.

"It's time to go back inside." She grabbed my little paw and towed me in. I wanted to roll up in a ball and disappear.

Recently, one of my friends read the passage above and said, "Shit, John, you're still that way now." He's right. I am. The only real difference is that I have learned what people expect in common social situations. So I can act more normal and there's less chance I'll offend anyone. But the difference is still there, and it always will be.

People with Asperger's or autism often lack the feelings of empathy that naturally guide most people in their interactions with others. That's why it never occurred to me that Chuckie might not respond to petting in the same way a dog would. The difference between a small person and a medium-sized dog was not really clear to me. And it never occurred to me that there might be more than one way to play with a toy truck, so I could not understand why she objected to my showing her.

The worst of it was, my teachers and most other people saw my behavior as bad when I was actually trying to be kind. My good intentions made the rejection by Chuckie all the more painful. I'd watched my parents talk to other grown-ups and I figured I could talk to Chuckie. But I had overlooked one key thing: Successful conversations require a give and take between both people. Being Aspergian, I missed that. Totally.

I never interacted with Chuckie again.

I stopped trying with any of the kids. The more I was rejected, the more I hurt inside and the more I retreated.

I had better luck dealing with grown-ups. My disjointed replies didn't bring the conversation to an abrupt halt. And I tended to listen to them more than I listened to kids, because I assumed they knew more. Grown-ups did grown-up things. They didn't play with toys, so I didn't have to show them how to play. If I tried to pet a grown-up with a stick, he'd take it away. He wouldn't humiliate me by yelling and running to the teacher. Grown-ups explained things to me, so I learned from them. Kids weren't so good at that.

Most of the time, I played by myself, with my toys. I liked the more complex toys, especially blocks and Lincoln Logs. I still remember the taste of Lincoln Logs. When I wasn't chewing them, I made forts and houses and fences. When I got a little bigger, I got an Erector Set. I was very proud of that. I built my first machines with the Erector Set.

Machines were never mean to me. They challenged me when I tried to figure them out. They never tricked me, and they never hurt my feelings. I was in charge of the machines. I liked that. I felt safe around them. I also felt safe around animals, most of the time. I petted other people's dogs when we went to the park. When I got my poodle, I made friends with him, too.

"Look what your grandpa Jack sent you, John Elder!" (My parents named me John Elder Robison to honor my great-grandpa John Glenn Elder, who died before I was born.) My dad had brought home a wooly, ill-tempered, and probably genetically defective dog, most likely a reject from some dog pound. But I didn't know that. I was fascinated. He growled at me and wet the floor when my father put him down.

I wasn't scared of him, because he was considerably smaller than me. I had not yet learned that sharp teeth can come in small packages.

"Poodles are very smart dogs," my father told me.

Maybe he was smart, but he wasn't very friendly. I named him Poodle, beginning a long tradition of functional pet naming. I didn't really know what to do with a dog, and I was always squeezing him and grabbing his tail and yanking in an effort to figure that out. He bit me whenever I yanked too hard. Sometimes he bit hard enough to make my arms bleed, and I would cry. Years later, I told that story to my mother, who said, "John Elder, Poodle never bit you hard enough to make your arms bleed! If he had, that would have been the end of Poodle in our house." All I could say to that was "Little bites are a big deal to little people." And that's how I remember it.

Once, I locked him in my room and he got out. He chewed a dog-sized hole in the bedroom door. We found him lying in the sun in the backyard.

Seeing that, I tried chewing the door myself. My teeth barely made a dent in the paint. I didn't even manage to bite a splinter out of the wood. I realized that Poodle had very sharp teeth. I learned to put my toys away before I went to bed every night. If I forgot, Poodle would come in during the night and eat them.

My parents didn't like Poodle because he ate their furniture. Despite that, Poodle and I slowly became friends. I was always a little wary of him, though, because I never knew what he'd do.

Our home wasn't very happy. The dog ate my toys and snapped, and my parents always fought. One night, I awoke to them yelling at each other in the next room. They often fought at night when they thought I was asleep. It was always stressful and unsettling to me, but this time was different. My mother was crying in addition to yelling. She didn't usually cry.

"Momma!" I yelled loud to make sure she heard me.

"It's okay, John Elder, go to sleep." She came in and patted me on the head, but she went right back out.

I didn't like that at all. Usually, she sat with me, and petted me, and sang to me till I fell asleep. Where did she go? What's going on?

The loud fights were disturbing because I was sure they were fighting about me, and I knew if they got tired of me they could just leave me somewhere to fend for myself. I thought, I have to be really good, so they won't get rid of me.

So I tried to be very quiet and act asleep. I figured that's what they expected.

"He'll go back to sleep," my mother said, quietly. Hearing that, I was wide awake, and even more scared.

"No, he won't," my father cried. "He'll remember this night when he's forty." And then he started sobbing, too. Anything that made both of them cry must be very, very bad.

"Daddy! Don't make Momma cry!" I could not help myself. I wanted to hide under the bed but I knew they'd find me. I was terrified.

My mother came back in and sang softly to me, but she sounded funny. After a few minutes, though, I fell into a troubled sleep.

Much later, I learned that my father had been having an affair with a secretary from the German department at the university where he was studying. My mother told me she looked just like her. I guess the affair unraveled that night, and my parents' marriage unraveled some more, too. That was when my father started to turn mean.

When I woke up the next morning, he was still in bed. He wasn't at school. "Your father is tired," my mother said. "He's resting." I walked over to him. He smelled normal, and he was snoring. I left him alone and my mother walked me to school like she always did.

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Table of Contents


Author's Note     ix
Foreword   Augusten Burroughs     xi
Prologue     1
A Little Misfit     7
A Permanent Playmate     19
Empathy     29
A Trickster Is Born     35
I Find a Porsche     43
The Nightmare Years     51
Assembly Required     59
The Dogs Begin to Fear Me     69
I Drop Out of High School     85
Collecting the Trash     95
The Flaming Washtub     101
I'm in Prison with the Band     113
The Big Time     125
The First Smoking Guitar     133
The Ferry to Detroit     143
One with the Machine     151
Rock and Roll All Night     155
A Real Job     171
A Visit from Management     181
Logic vs. Small Talk     189
Being Young Executives     195
Becoming Normal     207
I Get a Bear Cub     219
A Diagnosis at Forty     233
Montagoonians     241
Units One Through Three     247
Married Life     253
Winning at Basketball     259
My Life as a Train     265
Epilogue     273
Acknowledgments     283
Reading and Resources     285
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Reading Group Guide

1. Recent studies indicate that autism affects 1 of every 150 people, or 1 of every 50 families. Do you know people who exhibit any of the traits Robison describes in his book? What do you notice about the way they interact with the world?

2. As a child growing up without a diagnosis, Robison was sometimes called names or labeled “deviant.” Knowing why he was different than others might have helped smooth his way. Today, more children are being diagnosed with Asperger’s than ever before. Discuss the advantages of early diagnosis. Might there also be disadvantages? How does a label affect how we treat someone? How does it affect the way we see ourselves?

3. “Different” kids like Robison are often teased or bullied at school. Does Robison’s story give you any ideas for preventing or stopping that behavior?

4. How would you describe Robison’s childhood? How did his parents contribute to the feelings of loneliness he suffered? How did the birth of his brother change his life?

5. Describe logical empathy. Does it differ from the kind of empathy that most people who don’t have Asperger’s syndrome feel? In Chapter 3, on page 32, Robison writes, “I cannot help thinking, based on the evidence, that many people who exhibit dramatic reactions to bad news involving strangers are hypocrites.” Do you think that’s true?

6. Robison describes the way his Asperger’s sometimes causes him to display inappropriate expressions. For example, he might smile when many people would frown. Have you known people whose facial expressions struck you as odd or overly blank? How did it make you feel, and how did you interpret their behavior?

7. In Chapter 6, “The Nightmare Years,” Robison writes about the new names he chooses for his parents with Dr. Finch’s help. What do they reveal about the family dynamic?

8. Robison describes his struggles in school, which culminated in his being invited to drop out. How might the school system have accommodated him?

9. As a teenager, Robison listened to older people ridicule his dreams of joining a band, yet he did it anyway and became very successful. What might have caused Robison to follow his heart despite contrary advice from friends and family? Did he know something they didn’t, or was it just luck that he succeeded?

10. Why does Robison pull what he calls “pranks”? Did any of them make you uncomfortable? In general, do you think pranks are a legitimate way for children or teenagers to express excess energy or frustration?

11. In Chapter 16, “One with the Machine,” Robison says, “Sometimes I think I can relate better to a good machine than any kind of person.” Discuss the reasons he gives for his affinity. Why might a person find comfort in machinery but not in people?

12. In the same chapter, Robison describes being “the brain of the lighting system” at a rock concert, which requires intense focus and concentration. “You must develop a sixth sense for your system, to feel how it’s doing, to be really great,” he writes. When you engage in an activity you love or at which you excel, are there times when you feel the almost magical sense of focus Robison describes? How is that state of mind different from ordinary consciousness?

13. Despite career advice from music industry insiders, Robison doesn’t want to move to a city. Compare the life he experiences when he’s on tour with KISS to his life back in Shutesbury. Why might the idea of living in a city be intimidating to someone with Asperger’s?

14. Robison describes life on the road with bands in the 1970s. Do you think the experience of traveling with a band would be the same today? Would the experience of traveling with a band be similar to that of traveling with another performing group like a theater company or circus?

15. bison writes that he can’t smile on command. How often do you smile “on command” whether you want to or not? How would not being able to automatically produce the expected facial expression make your work life more difficult? Your personal life?

16. As he explains in Chapter 20, “Logic vs. Small Talk,” Robison is also unable to perform the little verbal niceties that often pass for conversation. Questions like “How’s your wife?” or “Have you lost weight?” don’t occur to him when speaking with friends or acquaintances. Do you remember how you first learned to make small talk? Have you ever struggled with it? Are there any conventions of small talk that strike you as peculiar?

17. Robison describes himself as being very direct, and indeed that is a trait of people with Asperger’s. He says that’s both good and bad because some people appreciate directness while others are offended. What are some situations where directness would be of benefit, and where might it be a disadvantage? Why?

18. After his time with KISS and other rock ’n’ roll bands, Robison moved into the corporate world.What did he like about his job with Milton Bradley? What didn’t he like? How did he feel about his position in management? What made him decide to leave a financially comfortable life as an executive for the uncertainty of starting his own business?

19. Robison has described a number of ways in which he differs from other people. In Chapter 22, “Becoming Normal,” he writes about his transition from “Aspergian misfit” to “seeming almost normal.” How did his differences help him in operating his car business? How might they have hampered him?

20. What kind of father is Robison? How is he different from his own parents? Did anything in Chapter 23, “I Get a Bear Cub,” strike you as funny? How is “Cubby” like his father? How is he different?

21. In Chapter 24, “A Diagnosis at Forty,” Robison meets an insightful therapist who helps him realize that he has Asperger’s syndrome. What effect does this discovery have on Robison?

22. t times Robison calls his little brother Varmint and his wife Unit Two. Discuss Robison’s habit of renaming people. Why do you think he sometimes avoids people’s given names?

23. Discuss Robison’s relationship with his wife, Martha. What special challenges might exist in a marriage to someone with Asperger’s? What benefits?

24. In Chapter 26, “Units One Through Three,” Robison writes about choosing Martha over her two sisters, and about the impossibility of being certain that one has made the best possible choice in life. Do you think there is such a thing as a “best sister”? In the book, Martha answers with “depends what you want her for.” How would you answer that question?

25. When choosing a mate, we confront many pieces of folk wisdom, one of which is: Marry someone who’s similar to you; your shared interests will keep you together. An equally popular piece of advice is: Marry someone who’s different from you. Variety is the spice of life and opposites attract. Do you think a person with Asperger’s would do well to find a spouse who has Asperger’s too? Or would that person fare better with a spouse who doesn’t have Asperger’s? What might be the advantages and disadvantages of each?

26. What do you think of Robison’s writing style? Do you notice any quirks in the way he expresses himself that might have to do with Asperger’s syndrome

27. If you met someone tomorrow who acted a bit strange or eccentric, how might the insights from this story affect how you responded to that person?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 64 )
Rating Distribution

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(31)

4 Star

(17)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 64 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 7, 2010

    Perfect Insight

    I am a school teacher and have been around autism all of my life. My uncle has autism. 'Look Me In The Eye' gives you insight of the life of a boy and a man living with autism. John Elder Robison seems at the upper (higher functioning) end of the autism spectrum. Mr. Robison's way of telling his life story is phenomenal. I had trouble putting the book down. The insight that he gives about someone with autism is great. If you know anyone with autism or are in a profession that may have to deal with autism, this is definitely a book to read.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2009

    A Book That Makes You Smile and Cry

    People with Aspergers see the world differently than you and me. I read a memoir, called Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robinson. It is a great book, I would recommend to adult readers. The story is about a boy named John Elder Robison who lives his life not knowing he has Aspergers. John Elder struggles to socialize correctly and doesn't know why he can't make friends. As Entertainment Weekly newspaper says, "Growing up was a mystifying experience for John Elder Robison, a bright kid unable to grasp even the most basic social skills - a condition he later learned was a form of autism called Aspergers." Aspergers is a form of autism mostly affecting the person's social skills. I really liked the part where John is a little boy and decides to name his little brother "Varmint. I really did like this book but I would not recommend it to young readers. I don't think that this would be a good book for young readers because it is slow and not very action packed and some of the content, it could get boring for some readers.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2009

    Highly Recommended

    This book is a quick read showing the internal struggles of someone with this disease as only someone on the "inside" can do. It was a great eye-opener for me, especially to hear what the author is thinking and the way information is "mis-translated" by his brain to our ears. I learned so much and it increased my patience when dealing with others. I applaud this man for writing about his experiences with wit and good humor and thank him for helping me to understand. If you are at all on the fence about reading this book, read it. You will be amazed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2010

    Loved it!

    I had only heard of Asperger's and this book was my opportunity to learn more. I was drawn inside the mind of someone who has a very different way of thinking and looking at things. The narrator's train of thoughts, though hilarious at times, is always very logical. Some of his personal struggles are easy to relate to if you have ever been misunderstood by people around you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2009

    Highly Recommend!

    I am a mother of four and I don't have much time to spend on leisurely reading. However, this book caught my interest from the moment I began reading. It is written in the most human, wonderful fashion. It just drew me in. I do have a compelling interest to read the book as I see many Asperger's like traits in my father's side of the family (although undiagnosed) and it was eye-opening to read into the world of someone who has Asberger's and has developed a successful career despite the sometimes socially crippling aspects of the diagnosis. FANTASTIC READ!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2009

    As entertaining as it is informative

    This book is touching, funny, and informative. I picked it up at Sam's Club because it looked better than the fiction on the next shelf -- I was not disappointed. An enjoyable read that also gave me insight into the ups and downs of life with Aspergers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    If only more people would read this...

    I picked this up out of curiousity after having read Daniel Tammett's book. I was by far NOT disappointed!

    John very candidly writes about living with undiagnosed Asperger's, and what it was like being on the autistic spectrum, but not being aware of it. It wasn't until later in life that a good friend suggested he might by an Aspergian, and he finally had a diagnosis.

    This opened by eyes to those people in our lives who might be eccentric or different, and that they might not be that way just because they're weird. They might genuinely not understand the outside world as I understand it, and maybe just need some patience on my part for us to understand each other.

    If you have a child who you suspect or know to be an Aspergian...read this book! It's proof that just because your child, or really any person, might be a bit different, it doesn't mean they can't make their way in the world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2014

    My wife purchased this book in the hopes we could read it and he

    My wife purchased this book in the hopes we could read it and help figure out how to real/relate to our oldest son, whom we suspect is Aspergian. After having read the book, I will say that it was somewhat helpful.

    Robison is basically writing his autobiography with Look Me in the Eye, but he does deliver some side bars with respect to his condition that make me understand my son - and myself, since I saw elements of myself as well - much better.

    Saddled with being in a dysfunctional family in the time before Aspergers was well known, Robison attempts to get through childhood in something close to one piece. Given his alcoholic father and mentally unstable mother, this is not easy. His failures to find lasting friendships and his withdrawal from others in his age group is painful to read. He does go on to find acceptance in the form of his mechanical abilities which lead him to the local music scene in Massachusetts as well as touring gigs with April Wine and KISS. From there, he works at Milton Bradley and currently as an auto repairman for high-end vehicles like Land Rovers. In short, he has not let his Aspergers define his life.

    While he has made something of his life, Robison takes pains to show how he is handicapped, mostly in the realm of human relationships. His current wife is a great resource for him in this regard, as she has been teaching him those moments when an off-the-cuff, extraneous reply is OK and when it is not. She is also sensitive to his needs and is able to calm him when he is anxious.

    The book is by turns sad and heartwarming. To see how his life has been affected by this condition and to see what he's missed out on life because of it is heart-wrenching. I can see how elements of this condition have affected me and what it has cost me. Yet, I see the same thing happening to my own son and my wife and I try to do what we can, and yet....

    The fact that Robison HAS overcome Aspergers - he does not consider it a handicap, but rather just a part of who he is - gives me hope for my son as well. The fact that Aspergians can and do have tremendous powers of concentration and can master things that interest them means that raising such a child is not better or worse than a "normal" child - just different. That - I believe - is the real selling point for this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    This book was an excellent story about the author's life struggl

    This book was an excellent story about the author's life struggles with Asperger's. It opened my eyes to how people with autism are treated so differently in society and are automatically labeled as "not normal". It portrayed a message that everyone should be treated equal and just because our minds cannot process things the same does not mean they should be labeled as any less than every other human being. I liked this book because it was written from the perspective of someone who has actually experienced the hardships of Asperger's instead of an outsider’s opinion on what autism is. It was more relatable and I felt more empathy for the main character because he described the events of his own life from his perspective. The writing style made it an easy read and I couldn’t put the book down. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, especially people with a biased opinion about someone with Asperger’s because it changed my mind about how I view not only people with disabilities but other people in society as well.

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  • Posted February 20, 2013

    Look me in the Eye written by John Elder Robinson tracks the li

    Look me in the Eye written by John Elder Robinson tracks the life of a man suffering from a form of autism, Asperger’s syndrome. The unique aspect of this case is Robinson knew he was different from everyone else, but he did not know why or how. Robinson’s differences included random blurbs, dissembling household items, and digging five foot holes for his brother to go in. He lived his life in an unstable household where he soon escaped from and dropped out of school which would be the best thing he would do with his life. Going on to be a successful man in the music technology industry, working with Kiss and Pink Floyd and then running and operating his own car restoration business. He uncovered he had Asperger’s syndrome when we was thirty-nine years old
    This story is deeply moving because of the hardship Robinson faced as a young child, but is filled with comic relief as he tells his story with a sense of humor and childhood anecdotes of his brother and himself. The fact that Robinson did not know he had a mental disability is the most astonishing because he had no way of understanding why he had troubles communicating with people. He stuck out life a sore thumb, but he overcame it. The lesson he taught was if motivation and passion exist in life, anything is possible. Robinson was forced to jump major hurdles to be happy and successful. Because Asperger’s was not a diagnosis is this time period, he had no excuses for himself and he pushed through.
    The novel is passionate, yet funny, which is not an easy combination, so the book is always entertaining. There is never a dull moment and it’s hard not to like. Also, you learn a lot about what it is like growing up with a mental disability, increasing the interest level. The story makes you reflect on your own life because this man with Asperger’s syndrome is so successful and overpowering major obstacles in his life that would easily discourage anyone. You take a step back and become grateful for the brain power you have and stop taking life for granted.
    Look me in the Eye is a must read because of the courage and motivation it teaches through a child growing up not knowing why he cannot make friends. The anecdotes create a more personal connection level and allow the reader to judge their life for what it is worth and everything they have. The reader learns anything is possible, no matter the circumstances, if passion and motivation is involved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Interesting

    Loved the picture on the cover of this book, in some ways it says it all. The author is obviously a very gifted man who expresses himself directly and in short sentences. An interesting discussion of fact and probably for this personal some emotion - however I would have liked to have greater insite into the thinking process itself - but that may not be possible. Worth reading to get another point of view.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2012

    Good read to help anyone understand Asperger's

    I particularly like this book because it is written by someone who actually has Asperger's and I can see from inside the real mind of someone how the brain is working, processing in ways that are different from the "norm".

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  • Posted January 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Must read for society.

    As a fan of author Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running with Scissors, I’ve always had a fascination with learning more about him and his odd upbringing. In Running with Scissors he discusses his older brother who was a bit of an oddity as a child. Later in life it’s discovered that his brother, John Elder, has a form of autism better known as Asperger’s. Look Me In the Eye is John Elder’s memoir about his life with this disease and how he overcame its limitations to find success in life.

    Growing up in a childhood that would barely be considered habitable by most standards, John Elder Robinson traveled through childhood with a feeling of detachment and awkwardness. For all he knew, he just wanted to make the other kids like him. Unfortunately for him, however, the things that thought were completely acceptable happened to make the other kids view him as strange and awkward. Not letting this deter him, Robinson attempted to learn to change his behavior to suit his environment and view his social experiences objectively. These same analytical skills served him well later on in his life, as Robinson developed an aptitude for all things mechanical and eventually went on to design famous flaming guitars for KISS. After being diagnosed with Asperger’s at 40, Robinson looks back at his life with a new perspective and new insight into his life.

    As someone who has grown up with a learning disability, I can relate to Robison’s depiction of society and their views on individuals that are different from the “mainstream”. When I was a child, I found that at times I felt like I needed to respond to the social clues around me instead of instinctively being able to mesh with my peers. Additionally, I was amazed by the fantastic amount of emotion that Robison was able to convey in his writing, all with a diagnosis that apparently prevents him from being able to do just that. His descriptions of his despair, anger, and longing as a child, his pride and joy in succeeding in his professional life, and especially his amazement at finding love and beginning a family were all fantastic to read. It’s not that people with Asperger’s are incapable of feeling; the lack of the ability to express these emotions doesn’t mean that they don’t feel each and every one of them. Robison’s ability to tell us what he felt in all of these particular situations in amazing detail is testament to his awesome talents as a writer and the wonderful life he has lived thus far.

    The book is fabulously written, giving readers an insight into what it’s like for someone with Asperger’s. If you know someone who suffers from a form of autism I highly suggest giving this book a read; it might help you to understand what it’s like inside their mind, offering up a stronger relationship between you.

    Kimberly (Reflections of a Book Addict)

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  • Posted November 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining, but not entirely believable

    The attraction of this book to most people is the fact that John Elder Robison grew up with Asperger's syndrome back before such a syndrome was diagnosed. I recently recommended it to the father of someone with Asperger's to help him understand the perspective of his child (rather than the perspective of the doctors). Although I've heard this is one of the best books for getting a first-hand perspective, readers should be forewarned that his interpretations of childhood memories are tainted by his adult knowledge of the disease. In his childhood stories, he often described rationalities that a child (savant-like or not) is not mature enough to feel. However, that's just a caveat of memoirs. Also, although his stories of older-teen and adult life were funny and interesting, some of them were not so realistic. For instance, the idea that an intelligent man (even a coke-head) could repeatedly snort ceramic powder and think he was snorting coke is just preposterous. Even if he didn't notice that he wasn't getting the same "kick," I'm sure the ceramics would have had some noticeable negative effects. Then again, this may be an example of a true, but exaggerated, story. And I'm sure exaggeration is a caveat of memoirs as well.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    Very Enlightening

    Was told about this book as school, since I work with students that have Autism. What he talks about how his feeling makes the whole Autism spectrum so different.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Look in the Mirror

    Been lonely all your life? Failed in your career because you are not a "team player"? People tell you that you are aloof, interested in "wierd" things," etc.? READ THIS BOOK!
    The middle of the book sags, but the revelations are worth it. Whether you or a family member or friend have been diagnosed or not, you will understand why you can't "look [them] in the eye", and be inspired to know that you are not alone.
    Aspergian non-team players may want to consider telling your employer that you are "en[dis]abled" with Asperger's, and ask if "team playing" is an essential function of your job.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Very Good Book

    The book really helps you see things from another viewpoint! Very interesting esp. if you have a child with aspergers or know someone with it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2009

    Great Book

    This is a good read. I acutally listened to the CD. It was very informative and gave interesting insight into the mind of someone who has Asberger's Syndrome.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    Funny and well written

    John Elder really did a good job turning his life with Asperger's into a funny, touching story. A great read for anyone with a connection to Asperger's. Made me understand my husband and son better!

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  • Posted July 30, 2009

    Must read this brilliant memoir!!

    In his enthralling memoir, John Elder Robison provides us with a captivating glimpse into how his unique, gifted mind works. Raised by an alcoholic, abusive father and a mentally-ill mother, he overcomes the many challenges of growing up with Asperger's. Socially awkward, he learns how to correctly respond to comments made in conversations. Mr. Robison also shares many insightful stories which are both humorous and poignant. Blessed with a special ability to sharply focus and learn quickly, along with an extraordinary talent for mechanics, he makes many amazing contributions to the areas of music and electronics. Today, he runs a very successful and productive small business restoring old cars. Mr. Robison has magnificently-written a brilliant, enlightening book that I absolutely LOVED for many reasons. Finding out the details of his various electronics projects was really interesting. Learning about his thought process during a conversation was quite fascinating. I also really enjoyed reading narrative from a different perspective. I don't have a connection to Asperger's or Autism, but if I do meet someone, I'll certainly understand what life is like for them. This book also served as an excellent reminder for me to stop and think before I judge the actions or behavior of someone else. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK!

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