Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger's and My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families, and Teachers

Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger's and My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families, and Teachers

by John Elder Robison


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307884824
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 03/20/2012
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 208,639
Product dimensions: 5.28(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt

Asperger’s came into my life when I was forty years old. I’m a pretty levelheaded guy, but I was totally shocked by the diagnosis. “Yep,” the doc­tors said, “you were born this way.” I could not believe I had reached middle age without knowing such a hugely important thing about myself. I was amazed to learn that Asperger’s is a kind of autism, because I thought everyone with autism was disabled. I’d always envisioned myself as a loner, a geek, and a misfit, but I would never have described myself as disabled. To me, being dis­abled meant having no legs I believe that. or being unable to talk. Yet autism, and so Asperger’s, was a disability—that’s what the books said. I’m still not sure I believe that.

The one shred of reassurance I got that first day was the knowledge that Asperger’s isn’t a terminal illness. “You’re not getting sicker,” they told me, “and it won’t kill you. You’re actually not sick at all; you’re just different.” Great, I thought. Very comforting.
All of a sudden, the concept of “people like me” took on a whole new meaning. Moments before, I’d have de­scribed myself as a middle-aged white male. I was a suc­cessful business owner, a husband, and a father. Now I was a guy with Asperger’s. I was autistic. Everything else seemed secondary to that new facet of me. This must be how it feels when you find you have cancer, I thought. I was still the same guy I had been the day before. I didn’t feel sick. Yet somehow, in a matter of seconds, my diagnosis had come to dominate my self- image.

In the weeks that followed, I read everything I could about the diagnosis, and I began to relax. When I thought back on my life, Asperger’s explained so many things. School had been hard for me, and I’d done some pretty unusual stuff after dropping out. My new knowledge of Asperger’s brought those memories into focus, and I saw how the differences in my brain had shaped the course of my life in countless subtle ways. Yet I also realized that the success I enjoyed as an adult was real, and it wasn’t going away. In fact, as I moved forward with new knowl­edge and confidence, I started to see my life get better every day.

Later, with the benefit of this new knowledge, I stud­ied my Aspergian son, now twenty-one years old, and thought about how he too used to struggle in school and in social settings. He was diagnosed when he was sixteen, twenty-four years earlier than me. I look at him today, and I see how much he’s benefited from understanding how and why his brain is different from other folks’. In many ways, he’s the young man I could have been if only I had known what I had. I made it through life the hard way; he has the benefit of knowledge to rely on. That will make his path easier, and it can make yours easier, too.

Observed from the outside, Asperger’s is a series of quirks and behavioral aberrations. Aspergians are not physically disabled, though an observant person might pick us out of a crowd by our unusual gait or even by our expressions. Most Aspergians possess all the body parts and basic abilities for the full range of human functions. We’re also complete on the inside. When today’s brain scientists talk Asperger’s, there’s no mention of damage— just difference. Neurologists have not identifi ed any­thing that’s missing or ruined in the Asperger brain. That’s a very important fact. We are not like the unfortunate people who’ve lost millions of neurons through strokes, drinking, lead poisoning, or accidental injury. Our brains are complete; it’s just the interconnections that are dif­ferent.

All people with autism have some kind of communica­tion impairment. “Traditional” autistic people have trouble understanding or speaking language. If you  can’t talk, or understand others, you are indeed going to be disabled in our society. The degree of impairment can vary greatly, with some autistic people totally devoid of speech and oth­ers affected in less substantial ways.

Autistic people can also have impairment in the ability to read nonverbal signals from others. That’s the kind of autism I have; it’s what most people with Asperger’s are touched with. The stories in this book describe the ways in which I minimized the harm my communication impair­ment caused me, while finding the gifts it conferred.
Autism in its many forms is not a disease. It’s a way of being that comes from this nonstandard wiring in the brain. The latest science suggests we’re most likely born different, or else we become autistic early in infancy. We don’t develop Asperger’s as teenagers; life on the autism spectrum is the only life we’ve ever known. We will al­ways be perplexed when we gaze at people who aren’t on the spectrum, and they will always struggle to understand our unconventional way of thinking.

Subtle brain differences often cause people like me to respond differently—strangely even—to common life sit­uations. Most of us have a hard time with social situa­tions; some of us feel downright crippled. We get frustrated because  we’re so good at some things, while being com­pletely inept at others. There’s just no balance. It’s a very difficult way to live, because our strengths seem to con­trast so sharply with our weaknesses. “You read so well, and you’re so smart! I  can’t believe you  can’t do what I told you. You must be faking!” I heard that a lot as a kid.

Some people with autism are noticeably disabled. A person who  can’t talk, for example, cries out for compas­sion. Those of us with Asperger’s are tougher to pick out.
The hardest thing about having Asperger’s is that we don’t look any different from anyone else on the outside. So why would anyone suspect that we are different on the inside? When I was a kid, no one had any knowledge of how my brain was wired, including me. Consequently, society wrote me off as defective along with millions of other “different” and “difficult” children. My strange behavior was de­scribed as “bad” instead of being seen for what it was—the innocent result of neurological difference.
Today most kids are diagnosed earlier than I was, but still, for many of us, knowledge of Asperger’s starts with some kind of failure. Most kids get diagnosed with As­perger’s after failing at some aspect of school, and their be­havior has brought them to the attention of the little men in suits who give tests.

I may not have been tested in school, but the differ­ences in me were still obvious. I could not make friends, I acted strange, and I flunked all my courses. Back then, people said I was just a bad kid, but today we see problems like mine as evidence of disability, and, as a society, we supply help, not punishment. At least, that’s how it’s sup­posed to work.

Today, many geeks, scientists, and other creative ge­niuses are said to have Asperger’s. But to some of us, the phrase “have Asperger’s” is misleading because it makes Asperger’s sound like a disease or an injury. You say, “I have a cold” or “I’ve got a broken leg.” Saying you “have” something implies that it’s temporary and undesirable.

Asperger’s isn’t like that. You’ve been Aspergian as long as you can remember, and you’ll be that way all your life. It’s a way of being, not a disease.
That’s why I say, “I am a person with Asperger’s.”

Many of us shorten this by saying we’re Aspergians, or Aspies. I think that’s more appropriate than saying, “We have Asperger’s.” There’s no right or wrong—you can say whatever you want, or say nothing at all. Whatever you choose, you’re in good company. Bill Gates is said to be Aspergian. Musician Glenn Gould is said to have been Aspergian, along with scientist Albert Einstein, actor Dan Aykroyd, writer Isaac Asimov, and movie director Alfred Hitchcock. As adults, none of those people would be de­scribed as disabled, but they  were certainly eccentric and different.

If everyone with Asperger’s achieved a high level of success, no one would call it a disability. Unfortunately, those people are the exceptions, not the rule. Most Asper­gians struggle with school, relationships, and jobs because their social skills are poor and they can’t seem to fit in. It’s all too easy to end up alone, alienated, and un­employed. That’s what life was like for me before I learned how to work with my dif­ferences, overcome them, and sometimes exploit them. As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate how my dif­ferences have turned out also to include gifts that have set me apart. One of my main goals in life today is to help young people avoid some of the traps I fell into. We should all be given a chance to succeed.

There’s a lot more to this story than simple disability. 

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“For anyone who has difficulty fitting in, this book is fantastic.”
—Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures
“In a love poem to his wife, Pedro Salinas, the Spanish poet, wrote, ‘Glory to the differences / between you and me.’ John Robison teaches us to celebrate differences like Salinas did, but also offers clear insight and valuable advice on how to cope with the challenges that being different can create. This book transcends the specific case of Asperger’s syndrome and is a lesson in humanity and the human condition.”
—Alvaro Pascual-Leone, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
“Anyone with Asperger’s, if not everyone else, will derive knowledge and pleasure from the wonderful stories told in John Elder Robison’s newest book, Be Different. Clearly, John is one of our community’s leading voices.”
—Michael John Carley, author of Asperger’s from the Inside Out and executive director of GRASP and ASTEP
“Be Different is a fascinating and unique guide for young people who may be struggling with autism and feel ‘out of sync’ with the world around them. John shares personal insights about growing up, feeling apart from his peers, and learning to modify his socializing skills and harness his gifts to discover his path to a successful life.”
—Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks
“Robison offers down-to-earth life advice for his “Aspie” peers and their friends, families, and teachers...recommended reading for anyone seeking to understand Aspergian children and adults Kirkus

" ...provides incredibly helpful advice to families learning to live with these challenges. Robison’s clear writing provides substantial insight into the mind of someone whose disorder makes clarity very, very difficult...a valuable read."—Booklist

Customer Reviews

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Be Different 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
LoriShery More than 1 year ago
"I believe those of us with Asperger's are here for a reason, and we have much to offer. This book will help you bring out those gifts." John Elder Robison I couldn't agree more. John Elder Robison has shared one of his many gifts with us by writing the invaluable guide Be Different. Using stories from his own life, both humorous and poignant, John Robison provides us with a rare glimpse into the Aspergian mind. With a great deal of self-reflection and insight, he explains his own behaviors and his reasons for adapting those he felt were obstacles to being accepted. His message, however, is not to change whom you are in order to be like others. Instead, he advises those with Asperger's and others who think differently to embrace their differences and the unique gifts that they bring. By focusing on ability and not disability, and using one's strengths to help compensate for weaknesses, individuals who previously found themselves struggling in the world of nypicals (Robison's word for neurotypicals) can find success and happiness. Be Different reminds us that difference does not have to be synonymous with disability. This is one of the best books I've ever read, not only on the topic of Asperger Syndrome, but in general. I highly recommend this book and the author's first book, Look Me in the Eye, for practical advice, inspiration and hope.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
Be Different is the second book by American author and Aspergian, John Elder Robison. When his memoir, Look Me In The Eye: My life With Asperger’s became a publishing success, no-one was more surprised than Robison himself. When it began to be adopted by certain schools, Robison was asked for a book with more insight into the condition, and Be Different is the result. In this book, Robison looks at the quirks of the Aspergian brain that can lead to disability or expertise, depending on how they are handled. While this may sound like a dry topic, Robison illustrates with captivating and often humorous examples from his own life, making this an easy and exceptionally interesting read. With intriguing chapter headings like Underwear With Teeth and Lobster Claws: Dealing with Bullies, Robison has all sorts of tips and tricks for Aspergians and those who deal with them. Robison’s rules for manners would serve everyone well, regardless of their neurological state. This is a fascinating look at a neurological condition that has the power to create a misfit but also an expert.
bookaddict--Andover More than 1 year ago
This is an absolute MUST READ! Anyone who has Asperger's/Autism or knows someone on the spectrum will benefit from this humorous insight into the Aspie mind. Mr. Robison uses some very personal stories to demonstrate how each of the "behaviors" associated with Autism, can be helped with some good old fashioned "manners". These methods will help the Aspie or Autistic person to navigate the "crazy" world of nypicals.
Kathleen Krumrey More than 1 year ago
Where his first book gave hopeful insight into how a young aspie could go from the struggles of childhood to great successes of adulthood this book breaks down what it was and how he developed skill to handle it. A bit dryer read than the first book but very informative. He follows up detailed insights with some personal reccomendations and a wealth of references. Living with a houseful of these types I found delightful backup to my gut feeling and heartfelt assertion that there is nothing "broken" but that our family has numerous blessings and possibilities.
jenbug302 More than 1 year ago
I have a 11 year old son diagnosed with PDD-NOS both "look me in the eyes" and "be different" are incredible reads that help you see the world through the eyes of an autistic child/adult. "Be different" is very inspirational and a must read for any parent/teacher that has a child with autism!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book very insightful. I have a granddaughter with Aspergers so am always looking for articles and books that will help me to understand her better. This is one of the better books I have read.
AthaliaStoneback More than 1 year ago
John Elder Robison deftly writes about his experiences on the autism spectrum, specifically, growing up with Asperger's Syndrome and not realizing it. This book is affirming if you have Asperger's, because Robison several times points out the advantages. Yet he also acknowledges the weaknesses, and offers advice on how to combat them. I would recommend this book to anyone who has Asperger's or who suspects he/she does, and for family members and teachers of people with AS.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having read John's first book, it was with great anticipation that I waited for the release date for "be different". The suspense and anticipation were well worth it as this is yet again such a witty and informative book, written by a wonderful author who is an enthralling storyteller. The fact that it is about a person who just happens to be on the Autism Spectrum is secondary to the fine gift he has given us in this second installment of his life's journey. Can't wait for the third edition....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Goooooooooood book to read. TrY it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With aspergers I just did not get it and though most read it to understand aspergarians ,but I read it to get what other people think and how to help fix my lack of social understanding so if as an aspergarian you hink you can go on on your own good luck but I will be fine and finnal understand jpkes as jokes not jerks
Rainsga More than 1 year ago
I read this book because my husband was diagnosed with Asperger's. The book was good, but I wish there was more information on his home life. What happened with his wife, etc. That would have madr it more valuable to me. Other than that, I found it interesting.
Apee More than 1 year ago
My daughter and grandson Jacob saw John at a book signing in Milwaukee and had him sign a book for me, Jacob (13) has Aspergers and I thought it would be great to get jacob a book too. After I started reading it and realized he needed to know what John was going thru at his age. Jaime bought a book for her nook, and they read a chapter every day and I asked him how he liked it and he said " It's good Meme " So, this is a great book for Teens and adults.. April Captain
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Practical and not clinical insight.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing 4 days ago
BE DIFFERENT was a Christmas gift to myself, mostly because I had so enjoyed Robison's memoir, LOOK ME IN THE EYE. I wish I'd saved my money. This book comes across as repetitious and rather robotic in tone, full of what seems to be mostly common-sense advice, repeated nearly ad nauseam. Perhaps it would be useful to parents, friends or relatives of children or adults with Asperger's, but only if they'd known nothing about it to begin with. The emotionless mechanical feeling the book leaves you with was very much like the memoir Templin Grandin wrote - also not terribly interesting. I couldn't help but feel that Robison only wrote this book to capitalize on the popularity of his earlier - and far superior - book. Perhaps a bit of monetary opportunism at work. Sorry, John, but this combination advice/self-help book simply did not work for me.
lauriebrown54 on LibraryThing 4 days ago
Robison has written a manual that should help anyone with Asperger¿s navigate the world of neurotypicals- those who aren¿t on the autism spectrum. Written as a loose autobiography, he uses his own life to illustrate the problems that those with Asperger¿s can have, and tells us how he worked around those problems. His inability to read body language or read emotion on faces, his lack of understanding of social expectations, and his over sensitivity to some stimuli are all things he¿s educated himself into overcoming. It took lots and lots of practice, but he¿s taught himself to interact with neurotypicals. The book is written in a clear, simple way that even a very young teen ¿ probably younger, really- can understand. Robison has a humorous style that will keep the reader engaged. The hope is that others can learn from his examples and live smoother lives, with less anxiety on the part of both themselves and their families. To do this, they¿ll have to be very focused on the task, but, Robison says, it¿s very, very worth the effort. The author recommends the book for anyone with Asperger¿s, for anyone who is considered geeky or nerdy, and their families and teachers. I¿d go further and say that it would be very helpful for anyone with a friend, family member or co-worker who seems to miss a lot of the social cues that most people get, because there are things that the neurotypical person can do to make interactions go smoother, too.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing 4 days ago
This book offers practical advice on socialization and finding a career. I love this passage, which is the essence of the book: That's the nature of Asperger's -- it produces what psychologists call "developmental delays" We're slow to pick up some social skills, and we'll never be perfect at using them, but most of us can learn enough to get by. While all of us grow and develop our entire lives, the pace of development slows down for most people in the late teen years. That's when those of us with Asperger's get our chance to catch up. Catching up may be a lot of work, but with sufficient focus and resolve it can be done. So a kid whose social sills were way behind his peers in seventh grade may end up being just a little eccentric in college, and downright popular in middle age.Robison talks about the fact that areas of special interest are a part of the Asperger's condition and that while a child's talking about dinosaurs for hours on end can drive a parent up the wall, that same interest in an adult leads to competence and that competence is the way to success and friendship. He gives good advice on the necessity for manners and personal hygiene and mentions something I don't think I've read before. Robison says that, even as successful as he is, it's still very difficult to impossible for him to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation. So he says he is a chosen person. People, women, notice his interests and competence and approach him to initiate conversation, and he can take the relationship from there. He's a chosen person, not a chooser. That's a good way to look at a very effective life strategy.This is a very helpful, encouraging, and simply written book that I would recommend to any adolescent with Asperger's or anyone who cares about them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
John Elder Robison tells about what it was like to grow up with Asperger’s at a time when there was little to no understanding of the disease. Robison was an intelligent child, however he did things differently which caused him to get negative attention from fellow classmates and teachers. These obstacles he went through as a child inspired him to better himself in his adult life. The major message throughout this book is that Asperger’s is not a disability, it is a difference. Robison strives to inspire his readers to embrace their own differences and to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities. I really enjoy the way that what Robison is trying to teach people comes from his personal experiences. The main message he is trying to get across stems from the lessons he learned as a kid growing up with Asperger’s. I appreciate that Robison includes stories from his life that are both humorous and serious because it is nice to have a change in tone throughout the book. There is not a thing about this book that I dislike. My overall rating of Be Different would be a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this book to anyone because I believe anyone can benefit from reading this book by gaining a new understanding of not only Asperger’s, but disabilities in general.
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