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Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's [Hardcover]

John Elder Robison
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 25 2007
Ever since he was small, John Robison had longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” No guidance came from his mother, who conversed with light fixtures, or his father, who spent evenings pickling himself in sherry. It was no wonder he gravitated to machines, which could, at least, be counted on.

After fleeing his parents and dropping out of high school, his savant-like ability to visualize electronic circuits landed him a gig with KISS, for whom he created their legendary fire-breathing guitars. Later, he drifted into a “real” job, as an engineer for a major toy company. But the higher Robison rose in the company, the more he had to pretend to be “normal” and do what he simply couldn’t: communicate. It wasn’t worth the paycheck.
It was not until he was forty that an insightful therapist told him he had the form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way Robison saw himself—and the world.

Look Me in the Eye is the moving, darkly funny story of growing up with Asperger’s at a time when the diagnosis simply didn’t exist. A born storyteller, Robison takes you inside the head of a boy whom teachers and other adults regarded as “defective,” who could not avail himself of KISS’s endless supply of groupies, and who still has a peculiar aversion to using people’s given names (he calls his wife “Unit Two”). He also provides a fascinating reverse angle on the younger brother he left at the mercy of their nutty parents—the boy who would later change his name to Augusten Burroughs and write the bestselling memoir Running with Scissors.

Ultimately, this is the story of Robison’s journey from his world into ours, and his new life as a husband, father, and successful small business owner—repairing his beloved high-end automobiles. It’s a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien, yet always deeply human.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Robison's thoughtful and thoroughly memorable account of living with Asperger's syndrome is assured of media attention (and sales) due in part to his brother Augusten Burroughs's brief but fascinating description of Robison in Running with Scissors. But Robison's story is much more fully detailed in this moving memoir, beginning with his painful childhood, his abusive alcoholic father and his mentally disturbed mother. Robison describes how from nursery school on he could not communicate effectively with others, something his brain is not wired to do, since kids with Asperger's don't recognize common social cues and body language or facial expressions. Failing in junior high, Robison was encouraged by some audiovisual teachers to fix their broken equipment, and he discovered a more comfortable world of machines and circuits, of muted colors, soft light, and mechanical perfection. This led to jobs (and many hilarious events) in worlds where strange behavior is seen as normal: developing intricate rocket-shooting guitars for the rock band Kiss and computerized toys for the Milton Bradley company. Finally, at age 40, while Robison was running a successful business repairing high-end cars, a therapist correctly diagnosed him as having Asperger's. In the end, Robison succeeds in his goal of helping those who are struggling to grow up or live with Asperger's to see how it is not a disease but a way of being that needs no cure except understanding and encouragement from others. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* If one looked at only Robison's impish sense of humor (he once ordered a blow-up sex doll to be delivered to his junior-high-school teacher—at school), or his success as a classic-car restorer, it might be impossible to believe he has the high-functioning form of autism spectrum disorder called Asperger's syndrome. Clues abound, however, in his account of a youth encompassing serious inability to make and keep friends; early genius at pyrotechnics, electronics, and math; and pet names such as Poodle for his dog and Snort and Varmint for his baby brother. Much later, he calls his wife Unit Two. It is easy to recognize these telltale traits today, but Robison went undiagnosed until he was 40. In the 1960s, he was variously labeled lazy, weird, and, worse, sociopathic. Consequently, his childhood memories too often read like a kid's worst nightmares. Not only did his parents fail to understand the root of his socialization problems but they were also virtually as dysfunctional as the pair Augusten Burroughs portrays in Running with Scissors (2002). 'Nough said? Not nearly. Robison's memoir is must reading for its unblinking (as only an Aspergian can) glimpse into the life of a person who had to wait decades for the medical community to catch up with him. Chavez, Donna

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Look Me In The Eye - Fabulous Autobiography Sept. 25 2009
By edrm
Format:Paperback
I have dealt with a whole bunch of books written by people with autism/Asperger's (a/AS), and this book is the most tremendous book I've ever read. John Robinson has his own in interests such as dealing with automobiles, which motivated him to run his automobile company. Since I suspect many people with a/AS have been chronically unemployed or underachieved at work, I wish I could do what I was really interested in like him. Even today, I have a lot of job changes, which frequently causes embarrassment at a whole bunch of job interviews. John E. Robinson seems to have more reliable friends than I do. I guess he wasn't as unhappy as me even before he was diagnosed. TR, one of his friends gave John Dr. Tony Attwood's book, Asperger's Syndrome. In this respect, this book wouldn't exist without TR's help, because TR could see through John's AS traits and took it as John's characteristics instead of mentally retarded or socially disabled. The author likes to deal with automobiles and so do I. Unfortunately, I still have no idea what kind of jobs interest me, while he seems to make the best use of his interests at work. So the author must have overcome his social misfits when he became a grown-up.

I'm not getting young and I may not be offered as many jobs as younger people. At least, however, I want to avoid torturing myself at work by experiencing social misfits such as reluctance to do what doesn't suit me! Otherwise, I eventually may have to be stressed-out and quit or get fired like I used to. That is a vicious circle.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you for the insight Nov. 22 2013
Verified Purchase
Have been a fan of Burroughs for years so thought I would read about his brother. So glad I did! Robison's honesty and revelations of life with Asperger's was such good reading I couldn't put it down till I finished. I immediately bought his book on Cubby to continue the story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, insightful Aspergian biography Oct. 5 2013
By fiscar
Verified Purchase
With Aspergers in my family, John Elder's biography has helped me to better understand our lives together and apart. Thank you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sad but inspiring Sept. 14 2013
By manny
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I get sad to think kids were raised that way, but, I do love the ending and how this individual made something of himself. it was a very heart felt book and I enjoyed reading it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read July 10 2013
By Anon
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent resource book for any fellow Aspy's out there or for anyone with one in their life. An excellent look into the world if someone with this exceptionality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved It! April 28 2013
Format:Paperback
I loved this book. I had been trying to read as much as I could lately on this particular subject and came across this book by accident. I am so glad that I did. The book was insightful and very real. The author didn't gloss over any parts, and was written very matter of fact. He is a brilliant and creative man, and also a great author. I read the other book he suggested in his book as well but must say, enjoyed his much more. A very honest, wacky, real and amazing story about asperger's and his life. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Parts of John Elder Robison's life were hard and are hard to read about. But like the main character in Shawshank Redemption, he climbs out of his particular hell and gets his life figured out. This book is informative about the author's struggle with the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome, inspiring as it traces his life's journey of coping and discovery, and entertaining for its pranks, anecdotes, and insider revelations about the music and electronic gaming industries.

The older brother of Running with Scissors author Augusten Burroughs, John Elder describes his life in that extremely troubled family. His mother's mental illness, his father's alcoholism, and his own difficulties in relating to other children isolated John Elder and created a deep sense of loneliness that did not diminish until adulthood. Escaping by dropping out of high school, John Elder leaves town for a consuming job repairing musical equipment for a high-profile rock group. He describes his gradually successful efforts to reach out of his very private world and connect with friends, his first wife, his son, and then his second wife. Readers feel his sense of closure later in the book as he eventually returns to his home town and rebuilds relationships with his parents and childhood schoolmates. He goes home again, and makes it work out.

John Elder did not learn about Asberger's Syndrome until he was 40 years old, and had already worked out how to approach life with his own personal palette of strengths and weaknesses.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I saw this book at Chapter's and instantly reached for it just because of the front cover photo, my son makes that face all the time and it wasn't until I read the next line, "My life with Asperger's" that it all made sense. My 3 year had just been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and I have to say John Robison's book was the best read I've had in ages. It is a beautifully told story with some dark moments that add to the rawness and pranks I found myself laughing out loud like the Halloween candy and exploding holes. But the best part was the incredible insight John's writing gave me into how my son's mind works and how he does and will see things. A great read, even if you aren't lucky enough to know an Aspergian ;-) Thank you to John Elder for this incredible book.

Katie
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