Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Look Me In The Eye
In a day when a cure is expected for nearly every ailment, flaw or disorder, I was struck by John Elder Robinson's assertion that those with Asperger's Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder on the autism spectrum that the author lived with undiagnosed until he was forty, needs no cure - only understanding.
Robinson starts his story with his earliest memories -a failed attempt to make friends in a sandbox - and meanders through his shame at being called a deviant and a psychopath because he avoided eye contact (although his explanation about how he still doesn't understand most people's need to stare at somebody's eyeball while speaking to them is hilarious), leaving home in the middle of his teenage years, finding himself as part of the 70s rock scene and creating flaming guitars for KISS, faking his way through a job interview for a position as an engineer and getting it by reading and memorizing books about the subject, his parallel struggle to "be a team player" through out his career, until he finally arrives at understanding and acceptance for both his gifts and oddities.
Although this book contains many fascinating stories that stem from his dysfunctional childhood rather than his Asperger's Syndrome, Robinson's experiences and viewpoint sheds a great deal of light on an "Aspergian's" way of thinking. I have a nephew who has been diagnosed with Asperger's and a brother and sister-in-law who constantly seek balance between his way of seeing things and their own understanding. I found myself asking my sister-in-law the question, "Do you think he needs a cure?" Who is to say? Robinson made clear in his book that while he has learned a great deal about appropriate social responses through trial and error, he still finds them unnatural and really, more to the point, unnecessary. What is normal? How much of life's successes are social? What parts of our own personalities should be fixed? I mean, I can't imagine an enjoyable existence where we are all the same.
But, if Asperger's Syndrome falls on the Autism Spectrum, and we observe those with the kinds of autism that render them completely unable to connect to the outside world, certainly we feel they miss out on opportunities for relationships and meaningful experiences. Certainly we would choose a cure, if there was one to be found. So at what point of the spectrum do we intercede?
These are simply the questions that I had after reading this book. You may or may not have similar kinds. However, if you get a chance to read this illuminating book, you will definitely have a glimpse into a colorful and fascinating life.