This is a book review of Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger's by John Elder Robison from guest author - Chris McIntosh.
I think this book should be required reading by all of us with Asperger's Syndrome. Everyone will really enjoy reading it, but I think it contains special lessons for those of us with Asperger's Syndrome (AS).
John starts out telling us about his very early childhood years. The stories that John told about his difficulty making friends resonated with me and brought back memories of my own hardships in this area.
John touches briefly on the subject of empathy. I believe this is something that every single one of us with AS will struggle with throughout our lives. I believe we struggle with questions of whether we have it or not. I believe we struggle with other peopleís misperceptions of what our impaired empathy means, and how they believe this reflects on our warmth (or lack of it), friendliness, character, and trustworthiness. There is far too little written on this subject. Although Johnís coverage of this subject is all too brief, and mainly describes his experiences as a child, this coverage was very welcome for me.
John describes his turning into a prankster, and many of the tricks he played in his teenage years. These are all highly entertaining, but do range from the amusing to the rather unsettling.
John describes the very difficult family life he had growing up. His parents had their own problems, which led them to being less than ideal parents a lot of the time. To be fair, it is obvious that Johnís parents did love him, but it is also obvious that their parenting abilities were greatly impaired by their own challenges. At times, their treatment of their children was very harsh.
Most people may be interested in Johnís description of his growing interest, experimentation, and expertise with electronics, and where these skills led. They first got him involved with local musicians. Then they led him to the junior highís audiovisual center where he met his future first wife. Then came involvement with a local band, a national sound company (the sound company Pink Floyd formed to rent their equipment when they were not on tour), and then Johnís main claim to fame, guitar effects designer for KISS. After this came various regular jobs, starting with his hiring by Milton Bradley. Last of all came his quitting his job to become a car dealer and his own boss. His business has grown to the point where he now employs around a dozen people.
Interwoven through these experiences is a recounting of Johnís deteriorating family situation, his increasingly extreme behaviors in a wide variety of school and social settings, many failed attempts by mental health professionals to figure out the cause of his problems, and finally his growing awareness and competence in social situations. His increased social awareness led eventually to his moving back to his hometown and being welcomed and accepted there.
When John starts speculating on his transformation from "an Aspergian misfit to seeming almost normal" this book delivers its most powerful messages.
Several passages really stood out for me. These include:
- Johnís stating that he did not prefer playing alone, and that he played by himself because he was a failure at playing with others. I think this is true of a lot of us with AS.
- Johnís stating that his being forced to deal with people as a result of forming his own business was beneficial to him, and greatly improved his ability to interact with people. I think if we have to interact with people, we can learn skills we might not have thought were possible for us.
- Johnís descriptions of his interactions with his son. As an adult with stepchildren, I have found this both challenging and rewarding. I have a tremendous respect for Johnís successes developing his relationship with his son.
- His relief at discovering he had AS, and finally learning that (in his words) he "was not a heartless killer waiting to harvest my first victim. I was normal, for what I am." These are almost the identical feelings I had when I discovered my own AS. I suspect these words will resonate with many of us.
- His descriptions of finally being accepted in his hometown, and why this happened. In Johnís words, "people I had hardly seen in thirty years welcomed me with open arms. Why are they doing this? I wondered. Then I understood. They welcomed me because I didnít do anything to drive them away." I think every one of us with AS could learn an awful lot from this sentence. There are many reasons we behave the way we are. John himself states "even the kindest and gentlest of dogs will bite if you yank its ears and pull its tail long enough", in describing how we can come to behave how we do. But eventually we have to overcome this. As hard as it is, I believe the rewards are more than worth it. John shows this with his account of a conversation with an athletic department staff member. As he tells it, the person says "Youíre as much a part of this school as any other alumnus," he continued. "Youíre always welcome here." I almost cried.
- Johnís warning us that these rewards donít come without very hard work. He tells the story of the Little Train that Could, chanting ďI-think-I-can! I-think-I-can!Ē He tells of his negative self talk such as "Youíre no good. You failed at school, and youíll fail at this." But he gives us a roadmap for success. Again, in Johnís words, "All the bad things that have happened to me in my life have simply increased my resolve to overcome the obstacles that are thrown in my path."
These are powerful messages for anyone, but especially those of us with AS. I recommend this book unreservedly.
*Chris McIntosh is a happily married man in his 50's who has been diagnosed with AS. He has a good job in the computer industry. He collaborates with his Peak Performance trainer, Ariadne Sawyer, developing materials to support people with AS and those close to them.
Chris has written an article for magazine Autism-Asperger's Digest, on effective ways for parents to deal with Aspergers and Arguing. This article will appear in the July-August 2009 issue. Chris will return to posting at the Delphi Forum AS & Relationships that Work in July. He can be found on Twitter where he tweets as cmaspt. Chris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author John Elder Robison can also be found on twitter.