I had two options for a book review: John Elder Robison’s ‘Look Me In The Eye’ and Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’. I chose to read the former because I figured it would give me a wider perspective on the subject of Asperger syndrome. Mark Haddon’s piece is a fictional story about a 15-year-old boy who has Asperger’s and autism. John Elder Robison’s book, meanwhile, is pretty much a firsthand account of an adult born with Asperger’s but was not diagnosed until he was halfway through life.
In this piece, I will point out three life choices John Elder made that I thought was pivotal in shaping the person that he is now and the people close to him.
His efforts to elicit a favourable response. One of the first life-changing choices John Elder made was during his early childhood when he decided to make an effort at social norms so he can generate a favourable response from anyone he interacted with. This was after he felt hurt and uncomfortable at the way people reacted towards him when his calculated responses were not considered pleasant or socially acceptable. He embraced his flaw albeit nothing made logical sense to him, and worked on practising “hypocritical” but socially acceptable responses. That was how he started learning the art of making friends and became the jokester among his peers for a time. From then on, he experimented on different approaches and growing up, he found things got more complicated but he was on the right track. That was his medal on social skills. While a neurotypical person might have sank into depression, bitterness or apathy, John Elder explored all his options until he got a favourable response. He just kept going.
When he signed up. He signed up for an electronics class at a high school when he was around 13 years old. This was after he embraced his struggle to fit in socially despite all his efforts and then discovered how to actually thrive using pranks and tricks, and “hypocritical” responses during conversations. This decision was the first step to much of his successes later on in life. While I believe any 13-year-old boy would easily jump to the idea of learning how to be a genius at something that will in the future become a driving force to advancement and technology, he didn’t know that yet. But why was it easy for him to go down that path instead of mastering the art of fitting in and succumbing to peer pressure as much as an average teener would do? Because his Aspergian self was leaning towards the comfort of working and manipulating things with his hands that, for him, weren’t too complicated. His Aspergian self saw a vision while his eyes were closed that electronics and computers were something that he can easily decipher. Not the human mind and emotions.
When he quit school. The other life-changing decision John Elder made that I thought was very crucial in steering himself towards the direction he took in life was when he joined Fat, the band. This decision led him to exposure of the realities of life even an average human being would find difficult to deal with such as travelling long distance for the first time and missing his comfort zone such as familiar foods, getting in trouble with foreign authorities and pulling out of it, and bargaining using his skills, which overall I thought he handled pretty well. I believe this was the point in his life where he proved, to himself more than anyone, that he had enough grit in him. While reading this chapter, I felt a huge wave of relief engulf me knowing that from that moment on John Elder would be capable to face life on his own or along with others just fine. He showed that he had acquired the ability to restrain himself from saying things or expressing his thoughts that would cause panic or alarm to other people when he needed to. He proved that he is able to thrive on his own far beyond the woods of Shaftesbury, and he proved it not only to himself but also to others.
John Elder understood and embraced his being ‘defective’ and maintained a positive outlook despite the odds. It showed his innate resilience and grit to rise above his circumstance that I believe everyone, Aspergian or not, has to experience in life. He had a difficult family environment like everyone else but his Aspergian trait of being nearly detached emotionally, shielded him from the pains of what really was going on in his family at some point. All he did was focus on what he was good at, not on what he wasn’t. And he just kept going.
Instead of spending the majority of his foundation years being bound by the standards of the education system, he jumped ship and went straight to honing what he knew he would be when he grows up. He wanted to be an engineer so he went straight for it. Instead of waiting for it, he made learning and discovery happen at his own pacing.
John Elder was gifted with positivity and resilience that every human being needs to have to survive the odds of life.
I personally believe that we all have our struggles and what may be too easy for me may be too difficult for another, depending on how we are wired and what life sets before us. The only difference for each of us is how we perceive life and how we act upon it. To me, John Elder is a hero and an inspiration not only because he is an Aspergian who made a name for himself and became successful, but more so because of how much resilience he showed against all the odds, and how he just kept going.
Author: John Elder Robison
Publication: Crown Publishing Group, 2007
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JOHN ELDER ROBISON
John Elder Robison is the author of Switched On, Raising Cubby, Look Me in the Eye, My Life with Asperger’s, and Be Different. Robison’s books are sold in a dozen languages in over 65 countries.
Robison grew up in the 1960s before the breadth of the autism spectrum was fully understood, so he was not diagnosed until age 40. After dropping out of high school, he worked in the music business where he created sound effects and electronic devices, the best known of which were the signature guitars he built for KISS. Later Robison worked on some of the first video games and talking toys at Milton Bradley. After a ten-year career in electronics he founded Robison Service, a specialty automobile company in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Robison is an avid hiker, a photographer, a music lover, and a world-class champion eater.