“I don’t want to be a genius or a freak or something on display. I wish for empathy and compassion from those around me, and I appreciate sincerity, clarity, and logicality in other people. I believe most people—autistic or not—share this wish. And now, with my newfound insight, I’m on the way to achieving that goal. I hope you’ll keep those thoughts in mind the next time you meet someone who looks or acts a little strange.”
‘Look Me in the Eye’ is an excellent, well-written and detailed autobiography of John Elder Robison, a man who lived most of his life without knowing he has Asperger’s syndrome. All he knew was that he was ‘different’. It wasn’t until he was 40 that he came to know of the disability and diagnosed himself with it.
More about the author and his other work here!
The foreword at the beginning of this book was written by his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, and it was evident in his words that he really admires and looks up to his older brother, even to this day. He writes:
“It goes without saying that I am swollen with pride over the result. Of course it’s brilliant; my big brother wrote it. But even if it hadn’t been created by my big, lumbering, swearing, unshaven “early man” sibling, this is as sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find.”
I was kind of touched with the admiration I could sense in this foreword. After reading this, I already felt that this is a story worth reading.
From the very first lines of the book – “Look at me in the eye, young man! I cannot tell you how many times I heard that shrill, whining refrain,” – I was already hooked.
Everyone thought they understood my behaviour. They thought it was simple: I was just no good.
‘Nobody trusts a man who wouldn’t look them in the eye.’
You look like a criminal’
‘You’re up to something. I know it!’
This issue of being misunderstood because of behaviour one has no control over, is something that I could relate to personally. Just last year, my younger sister was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – and although we (my family) had gotten to the point where we recognized that this was the case, the teachers were not so understanding. Her behaviour was misunderstood, and her anxiety was mistaken for being bad behaviour and acting out. Therefore, this book really had me interested from the start. I found myself empathizing with John Elder right away, and wanted to know more about the way his mind works.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading about the adventures – or misadventures – of John Elder, as he went through life being a ‘misfit’. Many of his experiences – such as some of the pranks he pulled when he was a teenager, and his experiences while working with KISS – were so interesting, I found that I had to remind myself that this is a true story and not just fiction!
What I appreciated and liked most about this book was that not only is this a story about living life with Asperger’s syndrome, but it is also a story about growing up in a dysfunctional family, fitting in and finding your place in this world, and overall, a journey of self-discovery. These things make this man’s life relatable to most people, and really shows us that those that may seem different than us at first glance, may have a lot more in common with us than we think. Like most of us, John Elder struggles with identity development, parents, fitting in, career paths, relationships, etc. The only difference is that this book allows us to see all this through the lens of one with Asperger’s syndrome.
Therefore, this autobiography really helped me understand both the differences and similarities in the thought process between myself and one with Asperger’s. There are certain behaviours that I may not have understood as much if I hadn’t read this book – such as the inability to follow the same social cues that most of us have been socialized to live by.
Lastly, I would like to note that as I read about John Elder’s childhood, adolescent years, and adulthood, I came to really admire his intelligence, persistence, self-reliance, strength and overall resilience. Despite being constantly rejected and misunderstood, and despite his lack of a proper upbringing, even since childhood John Elder seemed to be very defiant and always willing to stand up for himself. He never let all the negativity in his life lead him to close himself off from others or become alienated from the world. Instead, he continuously tried his best to prove his self-worth and be accepted in society. He tried his best to fit in at school in whatever way he could, he honed his skills in electrical engineering and became very successful, and he tried to figure out formulas in his head to formulate responses that would mimic “normal” patterns of socializing.
John Elder Robison teaches us many lessons in his autobiography, ranging from understanding the mind and becoming more knowledgeable about Asperger’s syndrome to some very important life lessons any of us can connect with – one of the most important ones being about finding and accepting yourself:
“Learning about my Asperger’s has benefited me in other ways, too. I’ve talked about feeling like a fraud, waiting to be found out and thrown on the rubbish pile of humanity. I felt like a fraud because I could not do anything in the normal way. I couldn’t complete school. I couldn’t ‘advance through the ranks’. I couldn’t ‘do it by the book’. And I always ignored the rules… So I’m not defective. In fact, in recent years, I have started to see that we Aspergians are better than normal! And now it seems as though scientists agree: Recent articles suggest that a touch of Asperger’s is an essential part of much creative genius.”
The best part of this book was that it left me with a very positive feeling. By the end of this memoir, John Elder is successful in his career, has a few friends, is happily married and has a son. Perhaps one of the things that touched me the most was the closure that he was able to achieve with his damaged parents. John Elder, despite any of the hardships that he had gone through, turned out pretty alright in the end, and that left me with a smile on my face. Overall, an informative, inspiring and uplifting read!
“But the negative voices are smoother and more sophisticated, too. Now, when I hear voices, I tell myself:
All the other guitars worked; this one will too.
The other jobs came out fine; this one will too.
I am sure I can walk up this mountain.
I think I can drive across that river.
And so far, with some notable exceptions, I have.”
Now I could go on and on about this book, but for whoever is interested, I’ll leave it up to you to go and read it for yourself!