Book Review: ‘Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s’
November 29, 2007
“Look Me in the Eye” is a glimpse not only into the upbringing of a boy with Asperger’s but a glimpse inside the mind of an autistic man.
John Elder Robison writes an easy-to-read memoir, beginning with how society treated a child considered “different” in the 1950s and 1960s. He continues his tale into early adulthood, including his reign as fire-breathing guitar designer for the members of KISS.
He ends his journey with the present day, which finds him as the owner of a car restoration business. This Aspergian possesses genius-level skills in electronics, auto mechanics and trickery. Robison relays these and other tales with humor and unabashed honesty.
The title comes from the author’s father. As a child, John had difficulty looking people in the eye when speaking to them. This is simply one symptom commonly associated with Asperger’s, along with inappropriate facial expressions, unrelated responses to questions and similar communicative hurdles.
Eventually, the young Robison used humor to overcome these social obstacles by playing tricks on friends, family and even teachers.
Having grown up in a dysfunctional family during the closed-minded 1950s and early 1960s, it is somewhat miraculous the author manages to lead a normal life today. Not diagnosed until his early 40s, the author has stumbled through life learning on his own knowing that he was not like the other kids.
In the second chapter he wrote, “I finally started learning how to make friends. I knew now that kids and dogs were different. I didn’t try to pet kids anymore, or poke them with sticks.”
He gradually learned how to adjust his behavior in everyday situations. In the past, he might have replied, “I want some cookies” when his friend said, “Look at my Tonka truck.”
He named his younger brother “Snort” then “Varmint” and his parents “Stupid” and “Slave.” Once married, he referred to his wife as “Unit One” or “Little Bear.” It is commonly thought to be difficult for some diagnosed with autism to feel connected to the people in their lives since they themselves lack empathy.
For example, Robison writes in Chapter 3 “Betsy said, ‘Did you hear about Eleanor Parker’s son? Last Saturday he got hit by a train and killed.’ I smiled at her words. She turned to me with a shocked expression on her face. ‘What! Do you think that’s funny?’…I didn’t know why I was grinning and I couldn’t help it. I didn’t feel joy or happiness.” It’s this sort of bare-naked truth that drives this memoir.
“Look Me in the Eye” is at times gut wrenching. It is painful to read how society’s ignorance can make a person feel like crying in the corner of a playground while beating your fists into the sand, wondering why nobody seems to like you.
This memoir is also refreshing because the reader comes to understand that we, as humans, are all alike. We all have our strengths, our foibles, our good days and bad ones. John Elder Robison has succeeded in bridging the gap between social ignorance and unconditional acceptance.
Amy Allen is an employee at The Bookworm.