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What must it be like inside the head of someone with autism? In Look Me in the Eye, John Elder Robison provides us with a fascinating account of what it’s like to navigate life, work and relationships with Asperger’s (now called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Robison is on the highly functional side of the autism spectrum and, luckily for us, has the self-awareness and ability to articulate how he perceives himself and others.

Look Me in the Eye is mostly a memoir of Robison’s life, which he was encouraged to write by his famous younger brother, author Augusten Burroughs, who mentions Robison in his book Running with Scissors.

Robison came from a highly dysfunctional family, which eventually drove him to quit high school and live in the woods and in dumpsters. He realized early on, after the rejection of numerous childhood friends, that he was not like other people. He explains, “I am not very good at looking at people and knowing whether they like me, or they’re mad, or they’re just waiting for me to say something. I don’t have problems like that with machines.”

His interest in the rationality and logic of machines, and his obsessive drive to learn all about subjects that interested him, led him to huge professional successes, from his start patching up audio equipment in high school to paying jobs repairing amplifiers for Pink Floyd, building special effects guitars for KISS and becoming a sound engineer for the first interactive talking toy. Robison finds an affinity with creative types who, he says, “all seemed to be misfits (too).”

Over the better part of a lifetime, Robison has learned how to figure out interpersonal interactions, motivated both by his knowledge of himself and a desire to change. Getting through the hard work of understanding how he is “different” from others has provided Robison with a successful career, good friends and true love.

Look Me in the Eye was written in 2006, a few years before Asperger’s and ASD were words everyone knew and only shortly after Robison himself knew that his personality quirks were a diagnosed disorder. Since then, the book has been used by schools to teach tolerance and understanding—a happy outcome for a writer who “just wanted to show readers what it was like to grow up feeling like a freak or a misfit”.