Look Me In the Eye is unlike any book I have ever read and for that reason alone I put it in my ‘Top 10’ list of books currently living on my bookshelf. The book is written and told through the lens of John Elder Robison, who shares his life story of living with Asperger syndrome, via a heart wrenching memoir. Robison tells explicitly detailed stories from his entire life in chronological order, which includes stories of his traumatic childhood, to creating special-effect guitars for the rock band KISS, all the way to receiving his “Aspergian” diagnosis at the age of 40. To call each chapter a short story would do the book a disservice, as each chapter provides specific lessons about about life and living with Aspergers, while challenging our current beliefs of societal expectations, human perception, and empathy. Robison is humorously expressive in telling these thought-provoking tales of his life. The chapters are short, easy to read, and chock full of the exciting adventures and emotionally wavering experiences.
I became interested in this book for two main reasons, the first being that I felt the need to educate myself further about ASD through the accompanying perspectives of individuals with the diagnosis. I know several individuals with Asperger's diagnoses, but have never spoken with these individuals about their condition and sought out what it was like to live with it. My lack of knowledge in this area is something I knew I needed during my pursuit to become a music therapist. This book taught me much more than I could have anticipated and would recommend the book to anyone wanting to experience life through the eyes of an “Aspergian”. The second reason I became interested with this book was after I read about John Elder Robison’s resignation from the organization, Autism Speaks in 2013. Autism Speaks is an entirely separate issue that will not be discussed in this review, but there was something that captured my interest in knowing that an individual with an ASD diagnosis resigned from a national Autism organization. The book reminded me that you never know the full story of a person and that most people are doing the best they can with what they have at the moment.
This book captivated me because I was able to put myself into Robison’s shoes, to see life through his perspective, challenging me to think of my past and current interactions with individuals with Aspergers. One theme that comes up throughout the book is the difficulty “Apergians” have in socializing with others. Robison discusses that through his life he had trouble making friends and would always find himself in trouble for saying things that were true, but that people didn’t want to hear. What was his solution? Learn to avoid saying what he was thinking. This shows us how confusing it can be to learn that the actions that come naturally to us are not socially appropriate. Furthermore, being told that the way you are isn’t the way you should be can be emotionally consequential.
I immediately remember how I’ve become frustrated or put off by individuals with Aspergers because they said something rude, didn’t laugh at my jokes, or straight up didn’t respond to my comment and ignored what I said. Personally, it pains me to think that I had the thoughts that I had or allowed my perception of them to be clouded by my own discomforting experience. This is discussed within the book when Robison tells us about how he would respond to others when asked about working with famous people, like KISS. His true belief that they are just people would produce responses such as “You’re just modest” or “What an arrogant jerk!”. The book touches on the fact that “normal” people are hardwired for social cues, have stock questions to ask in social situations, and how we are socially conditioned to function in public.
This book also forced me to put myself in the shoes of my clients whom social skills are one of their primary goals. I am quickly discovering how difficult it can be to learn social skills. I’ve recognized that I have taken my own social skills for granted. Social skills require the ability to attend to another individual, while engaging in joint attention; they require turn taking and understanding of what is appropriate to say in a conversation. What about conversation skills? Well, most of us probably don’t think of the fact there are three elements to a conversation: greeting, dialogue, and conclusion. It is not the greeting that is difficult as much as it is the dialogue and conclusion. Like Robison discusses in his book, how is one supposed to know what to talk about? Why is it inappropriate to say things that are true? Why is it that interpersonal skills are one of the most important predictors of success and not the vocational skills themselves?
Look Me In the Eye provides readers the opportunity to recognize that we live in a society where we expect others to be competent and cater to our social needs. Unfortunately, we often overlook those that have social deficits. Robison comments on how you would never go up to a handicapped person in a wheelchair and say “Hey! Let’s run across the street!”. He goes on to ask readers, when he will get the same respect as someone in a wheelchair for having his own handicap; a social handicap.
Kolby Koczanowski, Music Therapy Intern
The George Center for Music Therapy, Inc.
Book Review: Look Me In the Eye, by John Elder Robison