Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison, 304 pages.
John Elder Robison has Asperger’s Syndrome, but didn’t know until his thirties. Asperger’s is a form of autism that wasn’t labeled or understood until 1981. Those with Asperger’s are usually smart but have a difficult time understanding social cues and thus establishing relationships. They don’t express emotions like most people do, and when they do, they often appear to express the wrong one (like smiling when someone dies). It is often a lonely life.
John decided to write about his life with Asperger’s as a way to deal with his father’s death. His home life was tragic. His mother was crazy and his father an abusive drunk. He dropped out of school at 16. He had a genius for electronics and began an accidental career fixing and improving musical equipment. He did so well that he worked with KISS making their dazzling (and dangerous) guitars that smoked, lit on fire, shone hundreds of lights, or flew in the air and exploded.
Describing John as eccentric is gracious. He gives a nickname to those close to him that he insists on using. (His brother starts out Snort, then becomes Varmint. His parents are Slave and Stupid.) He seems to think of his brother, and eventually his son, as pets. He delights in elaborate pranks and tricking people. He rambles on for pages about “mate selection” and how to know if you’ve really selected the best sister (or, as he calls them, “unit”). And sometimes I wondered if his main point in the book was to show what an awesome guy he was.
It’s a bit disturbing, and many things struck me as wrong. Maybe some of it was. But after thinking more about it, I think most of it is just different. John Elder doesn’t think like I think, and if I was like him I would probably think the same way. He’s certainly unconventional and isn’t as culturally aware as most of us, but different isn’t always wrong.
And in many ways, I sympathize. I too had trouble relating to other children. I had few friends and many enemies, even though I was a nice kid. I was also diagnosed with a form of autism, though different from his, called sensory integration dysfunction. John’s story made me want to learn more about sensory integration, something I have never researched on my own.
I’d recommend this book. Be warned, though, that it is often profane. But it is a rare glimpse into a mind groping to understand the world around it. It just may cause you to do the same.