As a small child, John Elder Robison sometimes tried to make friends with other children on the playground by petting them.
He didn’t understand that children wouldn’t respond the way a dog would because he had Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. People with Asperger Syndrome lack the empathy and social skills that most people take for granted.
Robison shares his story of life with Asperger Syndrome in his autobiography: Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s. Published by Crown Publishers in 2007, the 282-page book traces Robison’s childhood through adulthood when he finally got diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of 40.
Asperger Syndrome, also called high-functioning autism or simply Asperger’s, is at the top of an umbrella diagnosis of autism, according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Asperger Syndrome used to be a separate disorder until May 2013 when an updated version of the DSM was published.
People with Asperger Syndrome don’t usually have the language delays that people with lower functioning autism often have. Most have average or above average intelligence, according to Autism Speaks. Robison, for example, was so intelligent that he took a high school level electronics class when he was still in junior high. He finished the academic work for the course in a few weeks and began working with a professor at the University of Massachusetts.
Life with Asperger Syndrome
The title for the book comes from a phrase Robison heard over and over again from his parents, relatives, teachers and other adults. Like many people with Asperger Syndrome and other forms of autism, Robison had difficulty making eye contact. Adults assumed he was being rude or disrespectful. No one had heard of Asperger Syndrome when he was growing up. Asperger Syndrome was not recognized as a mental health disorder until 1994, according to the DSM-V.
Robison also describes his social struggles in detail, something all autistic people struggle with. He had difficulty recognizing facial expressions and body language. He didn’t know how to talk to other children. If another child showed him a Tonka truck, Robison might have responded by saying “I rode a horse at the fair.” One day, he realizes that the other child wants him to talk about the truck. That helps him make a few friends.
Robison also develops an obsession with science and electronics. People with Asperger Syndrome tend to have a narrow range of interests but often become experts. Robison became so good with electronics that he got hired by the rock group KISS and toured with them. He designed special effects for the rock group, including smoking guitars.
His life hasn’t been easy. But Robison shares his story and the lessons he’s learned. His story is an inspirational one, especially for relatives and friends of people with autism and people who have autism.
Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison
Fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-V)
More by this contributor:
How to Talk to People Who Have Autism
Three Tips to Help Parents of Autistic Children
Three Myths About Autistic Children