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Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s is the memoir of John Elder Robison. The brother of Running With Scissors author, Augusten Burroughs, John Elder was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 40. It was Augusten’s prompting that led to John Elder writing this memoir. Robison has a way with words and his straightforward story-telling is entertaining as well as enlightening.

Look Me In the Eyes: My Life With Asperger's by John Elder Robison

Robison writes in what comes off as unintentionally humorous. The directness of Robison is self acknowledged as part of him having Aspergers, and many times this is where the hilarity happens. But his upbringing is far from funny, as he struggled to fit in and had parents that treated him terribly.

I found it interesting how Robison doesn’t really use names for people but makes up his own descriptive word for them. He uses the term Aspergian to describe himself and people like him. His brother was Varmint for awhile and his parents were Slave and Stupid. His parents were deserving of the disparaging names because they treated him awfully.

There is only a small amount of slack I can give his parents due to their own diseases and lack of knowledge. His dad was an alcoholic and his mom had mental health issues. Aspergers was not a thing when he was growing up, and he wasn’t diagnosed until well into his adulthood. His parents did take him to see “professionals” but again, these people failed to provide any worthwhile help (or limited help in the case of one doctor he discusses.)

His rough childhood is full of mischief. Robison plays a lot of tricks on people, including an elaborate scheme that involves a false ritual burning of a mannequin. This prank involves the cops and is one part disturbing and one part funny.

This less-than-stellar upbringing led Robison to drop out of high school at age 15 and start a wild journey amongst rock bands, including KISS. His exceptional ability to build and fix electronic devices helps him fit in amongst the other misfits, i.e. band members. 

The memoir progresses through many other jobs that put his amazing abilities to work. He can fix and design nearly anything, but eventually he finds his true passion as a mechanic, dealing with last resort problems on high end luxury cars.

We hear stories of his first marriage where he “acquired a son” who he calls Cubby. It is interesting to hear him discuss being a father as it is the flip side of my situation (non-autistic father of an autistic son). He also talks about what makes his second marriage work well. One interesting thing is that his wife “pets” him. I have also found that my son enjoys and calms down with light scratches on his back, or “petting”.

The memoir closes out with him visiting a trainyard with Cubby. His analogy to the Little Engine That Could has been his mantra since a small child. Even though he stumbled a few times, he never gave in to the people predicting him as a failure (or worse). Instead, he worked harder at solving problems instead of masking them away. He wonderfully explains how everyone can benefit from this attitude, not only Aspergians.

Overall, this was a fast read and an interesting memoir even for neurotypical readers. Robison is an excellent writer and storyteller. Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s is one of the best memoirs I’ve read.