Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Look me in the Eye Looks Like a Must Read

It being the busiest time of the year, I don't have much time for reading books right now. However, I just came across one that will be on the top of my list of must reads once the holiday season ends. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison," caught my eye in an online review titled Seeing-yourself-in-autism by New York Times writer, Tara Parker Pope.

Hint to hubby who shops on Amazon: This hardcover book is only $15.57 on the site! Robison, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's, first intrigued book lovers as a character in Austen Burrough's best-selling memoir Running with Scissors. Robison is Burrough's brother.

I loved the cover of the book (a little boy with his eyes squeezed shut.) Yes, I'm quite familiar with the saying "Don't judge a book by it's cover." However, the last time I bought a book based its cover was ten years or so ago when a book about a certain young wizard first hit bookstore shelves. The cover of that book, the first of seven in the very well-known series, gave me the feeling that its contents were special.

It's unlikely that Robison's book will sell as well as the one I just mentioned. However, I have a feeling that it will become classic of Aspie or Aspergian literature. For an interview with Robison, please go to the blog, Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt. She interviewed the author in September of 2007 when the book was released.

Anyway, the New York Times reviewer hints at a potential downside to the visibility of well known people. When people learn about Robison, Heather Kuzmich (a model), and Tim Page (music critic), then it is possible everyone and his brother might start thinking that they have the disorder. Certainly, the popular description of Asperger's can be both appealing and intriguing: bright, talented, and functional in society, but with an inability to pick up social cues.

However, please note that this condition can have painful side effects. Social exclusion, social rejection, and severe bullying often occur. These side effects have the real possibility of damaging self esteem and might even be attributed to causing depression.

I'm not an expert, but I imagine even the most socially adept person on the planet has made a social mistake resulting in painful consequences. However, if your parents or guardians (if you had caring ones) never worried about your ability to function in social setting and if you had friends and were invited to parties, then chances are you don't have it.

Even if there were social difficulties in your past, it may have been due to social anxiety, or some other disorder. I am still learning about Asperger's Syndrome. As I have said before, I wondered about myself having the syndrome. As a result, I have been told by certain wise people to seek out a qualified professional if I think it will be beneficial. This is wiser than giving oneself a self-diagnosis.

Putting the slippery slope of people giving themselves self-diagnosis aside, I do appreciate the people on the spectrum that are visible, including Robison. As for the author's insights on books on autism, here is a revealing view taken from the interview:

"[...] I did my first public appearance, with several other authors. The other writers were novelists who'd made up Aspergian figures, or moms who wrote about their kids. There was a dramatic difference in how that writing was received, as compared to mine. Especially among the autistic people in the crowd. That showed me there was a real hunger for stories from the horse's mouth, as it were, instead of someone watching the horse from outside the pasture."

People appreciate hearing about what it is like to be on the spectrum. While I hope that the efforts of blogger moms like me are also appreciated, I realize that the most fascinating perspectives come straight from the people who have the Asperger's Syndrome or Autism. I look forward to reading Robison's book.


John Elder Robison said...

I just read your comments about me and my book, and I have a few thoughts to offer.

First, if you visit my blog (click my name and follow the link) I have a nice letter from a dad.

Now, in your post you caution people against self diagnosing themselves. I actually see that a bit differently. At my public appearances, I tell people this: If you see yourself in one of my stories and gain some understanding from reading, or if my words make you see the world a bit differently, that's a great thing.

The message of my book is one of understanding, acceptance, and hope. Reading about my own life, I hope you'll see that I always tried to move forward, and I hope others will find that example inspiring.

All my life, I've done my best to take traits that some people saw as disabling or odd and turn them into gifts that society (or at least some people) could use.

My book is the latest manifestation of that, but there are plenty of earlier examples. For example, you can watch the guitars I created for KISS in the 1970s on YouTube today.

The words of moms like you are certainly widely appreciated - keep it up. But the nature of a condition like Asperger's is that there are always more people watching us (Aspergians) than there are people living as Aspergians. And for those of us living as Aspergians, only a few have the gift of storytelling. Hence my comments in the interview.

The "painful side effects" you allude to are certainly visible to readers of my book.

With an Aspergian child, you might also enjoy the audio version of my book, because I narrate it myself. And my voice turns out to be surprisingly familiar to other Aspergians. I didn't know it at the time, but many of us share certain patterns in our speech. Check the bok on the right side of my blog - there's a preview wher eyou can listen to the first few pages online. Perhaps you'll connect with the sound. If so, write and let me know.

You may also enjoy the commuity on my blog . . . they are a friendly bunch.

J said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and my readers. I probably will visit your blog soon.

My posts on Heather Kuzmich and Tim Page have been amongst the most popular. I suspect my post on your book will attract a lot of readers too, although that is not why I chose to write about you and your book. I look forward to reading Look Me in the Eye.

Take care, JML.

Elissa - Managing Autism said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book, I have heard of it before, but never in this much detail so it was great to read... and lovely to read John's comments too!!

The Chick said...

This is on my to-read list too! And even the author visited. Wow!Love your blog!

J said...

To Elissa:

You are welcome. I took an extra amount of time to write that post and am glad that it is being appreciated. I was very fortunate and surprised to have J.E.R. comment on my blog. I've visited his blog and he seems like a gracious man.

To The Chick:

Love your icon (for the benefit ot others it's a little yellow chick that moves). It's very cute. I'm glad you like my blog and I hope you enjoy Look Me in the Eye when you get a chance to read the book.

Elissa - Managing Autism said...

Julie, had to pop back and tell you that "Look me in the Eye" appeared under the tree for me for Christmas!

I've started reading and really enjoying it - finding it difficult to put down (which is a great sign)...

J said...

The book was under the tree for me too! I couldn't put it down until I finished it (about two days in spare time). J.E.R.'s good reviews were certainly well deserved. Thanks for popping back with the update.