Tag Archives: John Elder Robison

A tour of the Aspergian mind with John Elder Robison

I had the honour of hearing Naomi Tutu speak at a conference I attended recently inVancouver. Her message was powerful on several fronts: first, she called on each of us to be a ‘voice of courage’ in the face of injustice.  She also urged us to celebrate – not hide – our differences.

I was thinking of her words as I finished reading John Elder Robison’s latest book, Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian¸ on the plane on the way home.

Robison’s memoir, Look Me in the Eye, was one of the first books I read about Asperger’s after Ryan’s diagnosis, so I had high expectations for his second effort. I wasn’t disappointed.

LikeTemple Grandin, Robison has mined his own experience to help fellow Aspies, parents, and teachers better understand life on the Autism Spectrum. Today Robison is a successful author and businessman whose passion for electronics has helped him build a fulfilling life for himself and his family.

His approach won me over at first glance – here is a man who is celebrating the gifts that come with Asperger’s and sharing ideas for leveraging those gifts.  “Asperger’s was a disability – that’s what the books said. I’m still not sure I believe that,” he writes early on.

He then goes on to catalogue his first-hand experience of the brain differences that come with ASD and their benefits: his incredibly visual mind, his ability to remain calm and unemotional in taxing situations, his intense focus, concentration, and ability to learn quickly in areas of interest, his use of logic to solve social problems and his attention to detail.

But make no mistake, the knowledge Robison shares with us is hard-won. Before his Asperger’s diagnosis in his 40s, he spent at least some of his youth knowing he was very different from his peers (but not the reason why) and wondering if he was going to grow up to be a serial killer. “Learning I was a perfectly normal Aspergian male (and not a freak) was a revelation that changed my life,” he says.

Robison gives us a great guided tour of the Aspergian mind, reminding me of the wiring differences that explain some challenging Aspie behaviours:

  • Not responding when called: hyper-focus on internal thoughts, special interests, or sensory sensitivities
  • Negativity/pessimism: smaller range of emotions in a short time period, difficulty with perspective, planning for the worst to reduce anxiety, getting stuck on thoughts
  • Inappropriate responses to difficult situations: hyper-focus on internal thoughts, inability to read others

He wraps up his book with a theme that I’ve read about before – Aspergians identifying and using their special interests to find meaningful work after school. But Robison adds two other, equally important elements, to the equation – focus and hard work and resolve. And as a parent, that’s the challenge that lies ahead.

I hope Robison keeps on writing and I’ve got my fingers crossed that he will one day visitHalifaxfor a lecture or book tour. Maybe I’ll invite him myself. I’m sure we could fill a hall at SMU or Dal with parents and kids who would be eager to hear his story and his ideas firsthand.



Filed under Books & articles, Building social skills, Celebrating Difference, Non-fiction

Check out this interview with author John Elder Robison

I cannot wait to read John Elder Robison’s next book, Be Different, which promises to be a fascinating window on the inner life of Aspergians. Check out this web interview for a great overview of what he covers in his book.

Elder says: “Over the past three years, people have asked me countless questions about my thought processes.  This book interprets those thoughts while at the same time benefiting from the improved power of reflection that the process itself has given me.”

I’ll write a review before too long. Or if you read it before me, please let me know what you think.

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Filed under Books & articles

The power of memoir

We are a family of readers. Joyous, zealous, happy readers. One of the early indicators of Ryan’s AS was his ability to read at a shockingly early age. We now know he was reading at a highly advanced level by the time he was three years old and he continues to amaze us with his vocabulary and his ability to decode language.

I never get tired of telling funny stories about his eccentricities and one of my favourites happened when he started preschool. The first week he asked his teacher: “Ms. Pat, what’s a breathing diff?” “Pardon me, Ryan?” “A breathing diff?” he repeated pointing to a first aid sign tacked up on the wall for parents. “Oh, that stands for breathing difficulty!” The teacher looked at me apologetically and said “I’ve never had to worry about anyone reading that before!”

Look Me in the Eye was the first memoir we read about AS

But I digress. Because I’m such an avid reader, I’ve spent a lot of time in and out of books since Ryan’s diagnosis almost two years ago. The behavioural stuff has been good and so have some of the guides, but my favourite to date is memoir.

It is in memoir where I meet potential versions of my son later in life. Iwatch him try to learn to drive. Meet a partner. Break up with said partner. Get and lose jobs. In short, I watch him find his own way in the world.

Of course, I have no idea what Ryan’s life will be like when he gets older, but I take such comfort in listening to and watching these other souls growing up. They whisper: “Don’t worry. It all works out in one way or another.” And that eases my anxiety just a little bit and reminds me we’re all trying to find our way.

The first memoir I read was Look My In the Eye, by John Elder Robison, a skillfully written story by a man who wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until much later in life. His younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, is also an accomplished author.

I found a few sections in this book extremely dark and disturbing – around that teenaged time in life where it seems as though things could ‘work out okay’ or come crashing down around us. But as John grows up, the tale evens out and we learn about how the author’s AS traits land him in a fascinating career and fulfilling life. He has a second book coming out in March 2011 called Be Different that I’m definitely adding to my reading list.

My second memoir excursion was Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammett. Tammett was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at 25, but is also an autistic savant with miraculous numeric abilities. Tammett’s story is an extraordinary journey: he moves to Lithuania as a young man, he sets a world record for reciting the number Pi to 22,000 decimal places, he learns Icelandic in a week as part of a documentary series. But through it all he shares an intimate look at the non-neurotypical world and it’s riveting.

I’ve read a lot more memoir, but it’s getting late and I’ll save them for other posts at another time.

What are your favourite memoirists and have you seen the HBO Temple Grandin flick? It’s worth it!


Filed under Books & articles, Non-fiction