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by John Elder Robison
Crown, 2007
Review by Christian Perring on Mar 25th 2008

Look Me in the Eye

When I first started reading this book, I was surprised and a little alarmed to discover that John Elder Robison is Augusten Burroughs's brother.  Burroughs is author of Running with Scissors and subsequent memoirs; the first memoir was weird and incredible, and the subsequent ones because more self-indulgent and repetitive.  Yet Robison is several years older than his brother, and they grew up under rather different circumstances.  Burroughs plays only a minor role in Robison's story of his life with Asperger's. 

In Look Me in the Eye, Robison explains how his Aspergian qualities made him a social outcast from his early school days, and made his life more difficult.  He also shows how his Aspergian qualities gave him skills that made him successful.  He was mathematically and technically talented, and was fascinated with explosives and scary illusions.  He ended up creating stage pyrotechnics for the rock band Kiss.  Later on in life, he started his own auto-repair company, and he did well. His lack of social skills did not stop him from doing well in business, and he also married and had a child. 

There probably isn't any such thing as a typical Aspergian, and readers should certainly not expect Robison's life to be representative of other people of Asperger's.  His mother had serious problems with her own mental illnesses and his father drank too much on a regular basis, leading to major career problems.  This made his home life as a child more difficult.  Robison explains how he coped during the difficult times, and it is especially illuminating how he struggles with emotions that he does not always show in standard ways.  He finally worked out that he had Asperger's syndrome and learned about autistic spectrum disorders when he was in his 40s, and he found this very helpful in coming to understand his differences from other people.  Robison has plenty of odd and funny stories about his life, and he does a good job at showing how his own perspective on life and peculiar traits are distinctive. 

Link: John Elder Robison's blog

 © 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.