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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.
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.
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307395986
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/25/2007
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.36 (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

Look Me in the Eye

My Life with Asperger's
By John Elder Robison

Three Rivers Press

Copyright © 2008 John Elder Robison
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307396181

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 giveus 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...

Excerpted from Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison Copyright © 2008 by John Elder Robison. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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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

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 208 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2008

    An Opening of My Eyes

    As a swim and triathlon coach for disabled kids, 'Look Me In the Eye', served as an eye opener for me. Reading John's story, of his uncontrollable, odd habits- nick-naming people he commonly was exposed to, blurting out at what could have been seen as the worst moments, avoiding eye contact at all costs, and digging holes, only to stick his younger brother into them, enabled me to better connect to my students and maybe from my work with them, I was able to better connect to the book. Being known as a "social deviant" though oddly intelligent, wasn't per say the correct classification for John, which one could conclude after reading the book. 'Look Me In the Eye - My Life With Asperger's' proved to be hysterically funny at times, though often a sense of dark humor, but was able to pull the strings to your emotions as well. The book follows John's life from his hilairious childhood to his diagnosis (which he didn't reach until the age of forty) with Asperger's sydrome (a form of autism) into his journey of creating a family of his own and following his dreams of building guitars for the band KISS. I really enjoyed this book, the connections which I was able to make to it, and its' ability to pull on my emotions yet make me laugh a few pages later. My only complaint is that the book drew out, and was a little bit slow and hard to get through in the middle pages. This book should definitely be read by anyone (like myself) whom works with disabled children, any parent, as well as any teacher. I've never read a book quite like this, and thus have no further recommendations but my overall rating of this book is excellent! Enjoy!

    19 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2010

    Definitely an interesting read

    When I first learned that I had to read a nonfiction book as part of an English project, I was a little less than thrilled, as I generally do not enjoy nonfiction reading. However, I was actually a bit excited to read Look Me in the Eye, since I have an interest in the topic of psychological disorders. I thought that I would find the memoir of a man with Asperger's Syndrome to be quite interesting. As I read John Elder Robison's memoir, I realized that my prediction was correct. I was fascinated by the descriptions of his thought process, entertained by stories of his antics, and saddened by some of the recollections from his rough childhood. His memoir was truly an eye opener for me; it allowed me to get a taste of what it would be like to be inside the head of an Aspergian. Reading this memoir made me think about some of the things that the average person takes for granted, such as the abilities to hold conversations, make friends, and simply look people in the eye. People had the tendency to label Robison as a "misfit" when he was a child, because he did not posses the aforementioned abilities, though he eventually learned how to adapt to the norms of society. Nevertheless, he still felt eccentric throughout much of his life, up until the point of his diagnosis at the age of forty. Despite the fact that he had Asperger's, Robison was able to accomplish a variety of things in life that most "normal" people could only dream of doing. By the end of the book, I felt proud of him and his accomplishments and began to wonder if I've ever encountered an Aspergian. His memoir made me have a better appreciation for what I have now and a better understanding of people with disorders. I would definitely recommend Look Me in the Eye for anybody who has ever wondered what it would be like in the mind of someone with any kind of disorder. It's certainly an interesting read.

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    Good read!

    I liked this book! I also read the authors brothers book....'Running with Scissors'....I suggest reading both!

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    Good book to read if you are the parent of a child with Aspergers

    I am reading this book to become a better parent. I have just two chapters left! The book has achieved it's purpose for me -- to gain perspective and empathy for my 10 year old son who has Aspergers. I am trying to see the world as he sees it, so that I can help him navigate through his childhood and toward a life as a well adjusted, happy, productive adult with meaningful friendships and social connections. If my son did not have Aspergers, I would most likely not have purchased this book. For me, this book is helpful. This is the first e-book that I've purchased, and I am dismayed that there are no folios, and I cannot easily tell how long the book is and how far I have progressed. I had to scroll to the end of the book to figure out that I only have 2 chapters left!

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2007

    Hilarious & Heartfelt

    An intimate and detailed emotional journey, `look me in the eye¿, is a well written, compassionate, deeply moving story that will have the reader laughing out loud on one page and on the verge of tears the next. Robison reveals what life was like growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father and his mentally ill mother. As a result of his inability to communicate appropriately, blurting out non sequiturs, and several other socially unacceptable behaviors, he was labeled a deviant. He found comfort with machinery. Dismantling and repairing various machines would lead to incredible employment opportunities, developing toys for Milton Bradley and guitars for the hard hitting rock group KISS and later for Pink Floyd. His life would be forever altered when, at the age of forty he was diagnosed with asperger¿s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Look Me In The Eye is much more than a memoir or biography-- Robison lifts the curtain and shines an unflinching light on life with asperger¿s syndrome. Well written and original, this heartfelt journey is a fascinating and entertaining read that will remain with the reader long after the book is returned to the shelf. Personally, I had only the briefest understanding of asperger's syndrome - however, this book has not only defined, with pinpoint accuracy the medical jargon, but the author allowed me a front row seat, with an unfiltered view of how his mind operates, the things that caused him difficulties and how he has learned to deal with each and made a comfortable life for himself and his family. Stunning! Happy Reading!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2011

    Loved it!!!

    There are so many books on the subject of Aspergers but not many written from someone who actually has it, which is what I LOVED about this. I can read the manuals and guides, but they never discuss why my son, who's on the spectrum, does some of the things he does. I found myself relating to so much of what John Elder discusses in his book and saying, 'Wow, my son does that, too.' and realizing that so much of what my child does is because of his ASD and not because he is trying to be difficult.

    I am thankful for the author's decision (and his brother's)to share his story with us. He has led a remarkable life and I hope he continues to share his numerous gifts with the rest of us!!!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2009

    Great Book!

    I bought this book because my eleven year old son has Asperger's Syndrome. I read it and then I let him read it. I wanted him to see that someone could live a "normal" life with Asperger's. We talked about the similarities that he shared with Mr. Robson. This book gave me a real insight into the mind of an Asperger's person. I highly recommend it for anyone who has an Asperger child, sibling or spouse. I've read other books about AS but you get a better understanding when you read something written by an actual AS person.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 2, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Very Good

    I really enjoyed reading this book. It gave me an idea of what someone with Asperger's goes through and how they think. The book never once seemed slow and was very entertaining. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Aspergers and autism.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2008

    Eye Opening

    As a mother of an Aspergian, John's amazing recollect of childhood thought processes enlightened my understanding of my own child. Everyone must read this book!!!!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I like this book. People who do not have such disorders cannot u

    I like this book. People who do not have such disorders cannot understand how it feels. I think Mr. Robinson did a great job describing it while making the book funny, sad and entertaining all at the same time. I admire him for his courage.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2012

    Insight book

    Great book, and as a person with this disorder/condition it was nice to finally read a book that made me understand myself and the disorder a lot better

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2011

    UGH

    This book i have just finally stopped reading before the end. Absolutely dreadful. This book dragged on and on about what little brother could do wirhout understanding the reasoning behind it. Im sorry, i sont care who worked with Kiss and who made pyrotechnics for groups. I am very disappointed in this book. I wouldve liked to have heard more about his disease and not how many friggin guitars he exploded. I had to stop and il moving on to another book. I hate to do that but this crap was putting me to sleep.

    4 out of 40 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2013

    Eye Opening

    Revealing account of what an Aspie goes through and thinks! Very helpful for anyone that has someone dear to them with Aspberger's. Would recommend highly, you may just find some of your own traits revealed!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2013

    WOW!

    Incredible book. Helped me me understand my niece. Very thought provoking. An amazing way to view the world -- the same world I live in, but from so differently.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2012

    Great read

    So insightful...the characters are well-developed and intriguing. You leave this book with a deep respect for the author and his journey of self-awareness but also a desire to learn more about Asperger's. Very well written; I highly recommend!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    I can relafe I Can Relate

    John Elder Robison writes one of the most enlightening memoirs the psychological community has seen in many a day. I have Asperger's myself, and when I first read this, I saw many parallels between myself and John Elder, including a substantial obstacle in interpersonal intetactions, a very pronounced inability to read and react to common social cues (e.g. eye contact, facial expressions, etc.) The key difference between the book and my own story is that I was raised with the proper diagnosis. Bearing that in mind, every school I ever attended did whatever it took to get me in contact with the world around me. I've come a long way since the day I discovered Iwas different from my peers. Nowadays, I have quite a few friends, and since we started college, we've stuck with each other through thick and thin, easy times and rough ones, and always been there for each other. Over time, I came to accept that I was different, and different is cool. John Elder, if you're reading this, I just want to thank you. Reading your memoir has really helped me get where I am today, and I've gotten to know myself way better. Plus, I like to read the funny, suspenseful, and entertaining stories interspersed throughout the book. Those made it difficult to put the book down! Keep up the good work!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    I think I have some of this in me!

    The more I read of his life as an Aspergian the more often I think I find parts of him in myself. Imagine growing up with a different way of looking at life and not being able to explain yourself to others. His type of person wasn't even given a category in the DSM until he was out of school. His triumphal overcoming of the many disadvantages that he had are described, many of them not related to Asperger's. I don't want to say "his disease" because being different isn't always a disease. Early childhood can be terrible for those that don't react as the majority do nor understand what they are doing as well as why. Children learn how to react towards others from observing and copying others and maybe our society wants everyone to react the same way? How boring that would be. We all would be redundant, wouldn't we? At the same time, when someone asks you, "How are you?" they usually don't want to know but for an Aspergian, that isn't understood. So, they tell you and you politely run away and shun them. His unusual skills and intelligence helped him to survive but compassion and understanding from others finally helped him enjoy being alive. Read his life journey and marvel at his success.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An Inspiring Autobiography

    Intense, funny, inspiring autobiography of a young man coming of age with Asperger's Syndrome. You can't possibly understand what goes on in the mind of someone with Asperger's Syndrome, if you are neuro-typical. The normal rules do not apply. But Robison describes the inner workings of his mind in a way that shows the incredible structure of an "Aspergian" mind. This is an excellent book for anyone trying to love and understand a loved one with Asperger's Syndrome.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2014

    Loved this book!

    What an entertaining book! Though I don't know anyone with Aspergers, I do know a child who is austic. How wonderful to learn about this condition from someone who has it. Mr. Robinson's story is so interesting, he's living an amazing life. Thank you for taking us with you as you toured with KISS, to GA to your grandparents farm, on the many trips with Cubby, for introducing us to your parents and brother and for educating us about Aspergers. I'll read "Running with Scissors", next. This book is for anyone who enjoys a good, interesting read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    Great book

    I ended up buying it after reading it on here so I could pass it on to family members to read. Love it!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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