The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

November 2, 2007

Book review: Burroughs’ brother writes about ‘Life with Asperger’s’

Readers of Augusten Burroughs’ “Running with Scissors” might recall the brief appearance of his older brother in that biting memoir of growing up amid dysfunction and chaos. Now, John Elder Robison has his own story to tell, in “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s.”

Although I’m a fan of Burroughs’ writing and looked forward to learning more about his brother, it was the subtitle of “Look Me in the Eye” that drew me. Two children very dear to me have Asperger’s syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder; among other traits, those with Asperger’s tend to find social interactions difficult and have very focused interests. Unlike my young friends, Robison wasn’t diagnosed until he was 40 years old. “Look Me in the Eye” primarily details the decades leading up to that pivotal diagnosis, but it also addresses how this revelation altered his perceptions of himself and his life.

Robison always knew he was different. Making friends with other children was hard. He was intelligent but had problems in school. And for those familiar with “Running with Scissors,” the horrors that he endured at home won’t be a surprise: an abusive, alcoholic father, and a mentally ill mother who bounced around institutions and spent years in the thrall of a therapist with questionable treatment methods.

Life at home was a disaster and school a challenge, but Robison thrived in other areas. He found solace in his passions — cars, motorcycles, electronics, music, elaborate practical jokes. He eventually dropped out of high school, but a series of jobs led him to an opportunity many music fans would kill for: designing guitars for the rock band KISS. His creative thinking as he developed instruments that breathed smoke and fire, emitted lights and performed a whole host of special effects fascinated me. Along the way, he had memorable adventures — one involving a skanky Florida hotel room, a loaded gun and a supremely annoyed water moccasin is particularly colorful.

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