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Robison, John Elder 1957–

Robison, John Elder 1957–

PERSONAL:

Born 1957, in Athens, GA; married; children: one son. Hobbies and other interests: Electronics, photography, public speaking, hiking, boats, machines, outdoors, Land Rovers, and classic Rolls Royce and Bentley motor cars.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Amherst, MA. Agent—Lavin Agency, 222 3rd St., Ste. 1130, Cambridge, MA 02142. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Developed electronic effects for the rock band Kiss, 1970s; Milton Bradley, designer; worked as an automobile mechanic; founder and president of JE Robison Service Company, Inc. (repair of luxury automobiles), Springfield, MA.

WRITINGS:

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's (memoir), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of the Look Me in the Eye blog.

ADAPTATIONS:

Look Me in the Eye was adapted for audio (eight CDs), read by Mark Deakins, Books on Tape, 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

John Elder Robison is the author of the memoir Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, but his name is already familiar to fans of the writings of his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, whose own memoir is Running with Scissors. Burroughs, who mentions his older brother often, urged him to write Look Me in the Eye, which is also Robison's first book. Burroughs, who changed his name, has said that his brother is the storyteller of the family.

Robison writes of growing up in a household with an alcoholic father and mother who suffered from mental illness. Unable to interact socially with others, he had great difficulty in school, and he quit high school at fifteen and left home at sixteen. He suffered from Asperger's, a high-functioning type of autism spectrum disorder that at the time had not yet been identified.

Robison was a talented mechanic and engineer, however, and he restored automobiles and designed toys for Milton Bradley. He worked as a stagehand for the rock band Kiss and was responsible for the pyrotechnic effects in their performances.

Library Journal reviewer Corey Seeman noted that Robison writes extensively about his ability to understand machines and wrote: "If there is a drawback here, it is that readers do not get a strong sense of how his self-diagnosis impacted his life." Seeman did recommend the memoir for autism collections.

Robison was not diagnosed until he was forty. By that point he had led an interesting life, had been very successful professionally, and now had his own business in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he repaired luxury motor cars. His life changed when T.R. Rosenberg, a therapist practicing in Amherst, Massachusetts, where Robison lives, told him about Asperger's.

Robison's method of naming people—he called Burroughs "Varmint" and his wife "Unit Two," because she is a middle sister—are typical of the way the mind of someone with Asperger's works. Other problems of the disorder, besides being unable to look people in the eye, include the inability to read body language and to read other social signals. Once Robison understood how he was different, he compensated by adjusting his behavior so that he was better able to relate to others.

In discussing his life in an interview for Treatment Online, Robison said he coped with Asperger's by making adjustments to his behavior. "And I've learned a lot about what other people are going to do from my fifty years of observing them. I have to say at this point I don't really have a lot of trouble fitting in because I've had a lot of practice at it. That's something that I think is an important inspirational concept for parents and young people with Asperger's. It's a condition that we continually sort of evolve and adapt with, and the older we get the more normal we become, in most cases."

A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "Chapters on his son and on his late discovery of friendship are truly moving," and called the book "an exceptionally useful contribution to the literature." "Robison's memoir is must reading," wrote Booklist contributor Donna Chavez.

Kelly Hewitt, who hosts the Web site Interviewing Authors: Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt, wrote: "Robison is an excellent spokesman for his disorder. He has striven to give Asperger's a face and to educate the world about it. Robison is an attentive writer, focused and dedicated to the stories he tells and to representing Asperger's." Hewitt interviewed Robison and asked him how it felt to have a best seller before the book had even been released. He replied: "Well, as soon as I started my blog moms began to write me, and then Aspergian people started to write. I realized that autistic spectrum conditions affect millions of people, and when you add the friends, families, teachers, and counselors … it's a story that could speak to a huge number of people. I had no idea of that when I wrote it." Robison ended the interview by saying: "I hope to show the world at large that people aren't so different after all. I hope to inspire young people who struggle to find their way and fit in. I hope to show parents and people who work with Aspergians what it's like to be one. I hope to increase the level of tolerance and understanding in the world by a little bit."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Robison, John Elder, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 2007, Donna Chavez, review of Look Me in the Eye, p. 28.

Entertainment Weekly, September 28, 2007, Kim Wook, review of Look Me in the Eye, p. 111.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of Look Me in the Eye.

Kliatt, January, 2008, John E. Boyd, review of Look Me in the Eye, p. 48.

Library Journal, August 1, 2007, Corey Seeman, review of Look Me in the Eye, p. 105.

Publishers Weekly, July 9, 2007, review of Look Me in the Eye, p. 44.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 13, 2007, David Royko, review of Look Me in the Eye, p. 8.

ONLINE

Interviewing Authors: Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt, http://loadedquestions.blogspotcom/ (April 24, 2008), author interview.

John Elder Robison Home Page,http://www.johnrobison.com (April 24, 2008).

Lavin Agency Web site,http://www.thelavinagency.com/ (April 24, 2008), author profile.

Treatment Online,http://www.treatmentonline.com/ (October 25, 2007), "Interview: John Elder Robison Talks about His Life with Asperger's."

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