Look Me in the Eye - review

Look Me in the Eye - review
“Look Me in the Eye-My Life with Asperger's” is an autobiography by John Elder Robison. Robison's writing style is engaging, and his story is certainly an interesting one. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, with parents who were alternately loving and abusive. While Dad enjoyed taking him on jaunts to the railroad museum, he also beat him regularly while drunk. John's father was an alcoholic college professor, his mother a frustrated writer who had severe mental health issues of her own. His younger brother might be familiar to some as the author of the recent book, "Running With Scissors". John appears to be the most normal person in the family, but he grows up as a mostly solitary kid who doesn't quite fit in anywhere. He was not diagnosed with Asperger's (and actually, it did not exist as a clinical diagnosis when John was a child) until he was 40 years old.

John shares the frustration of being smart yet not fitting in at school. He was fifteen and scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests, yet got F's in every subject. He dropped out of school. Fortunately, John found his way to a career as a sound engineer, and before he was 21, he was working for the rock band KISS, designing special effects for Ace Frehley's guitars.

John's struggles with interpersonal relationships will be familiar to anyone who has Asperger's or loves someone who has Asperger's. There is light at the end of the tunnel though. At the book's end, John shares how he has learned to get along better with people and found a happy home with a wife and child. I admire his tenacity. Some people with AS appear to give up and retreat from the world, to avoid the pain and confusion of living life in a “foreign” culture. This is not what John Robison did, and perhaps it was his unique upbringing that made him so resilient. He had many setbacks in his life, yet some really amazing opportunities as well.

I do not recommend this book for kids younger than 14 or so. There are references to sex and violence, and a liberal sprinkling of profanity. It's better digested by an older teen or adult.

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