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.


Jen said...

Sounds like a good one! I just finished the Book Thief and LOVED it:)

Tara said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this one. I'm sure I read it with different "eyes and ears" just because of the experiences we've lived but I'm glad it was insightful for you.

Your questions are thought-provoking. If I'm being honest, as a mother, I'm quite sure I'd be all for a cure. It's always easy to look back on challenges overcome and be grateful for all we've learned but in the midst of those most trying moments, I'm positive I would gladly have them all swept away if given the option!

Becky K said...

This sounds interesting. I know a girl with Aspergers; it would be a hard thing to live with.

BTW, I am reading Angle of Repose because of your review of it. Because you know, when I'm needing something to read I read what other people have read and I totally trust your judgement. I just started it, so we'll see. ;)

Wendy said...

I, too, read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories (funny and unbelievable at times), but I think I tended to agree with the author about learning to cope rather than fix the problem.

I don't know of anyone with a hard-and-fast diagnosis of Asperger's. But, I'm convinced that two of my former students (twins, actually - a boy and a girl) had this.

At first, I experienced frustration in dealing with them (the whole difference of perspective). But, in the three years I knew them, I can truly say that I came to love them and to love the very individuals Asperger's caused them to be.

Another great book, which offers insight into the head of a boy with autism, is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Warning - foul language, but a great read!