Imagine spending the first forty years of your life in darkness, blind to the emotions and social signals of other people. Then imagine that someone suddenly switches the lights on.
It has long been assumed that people living with autism are born with the diminished ability to read the emotions of others, even as they feel emotion deeply. But what if we’ve been wrong all this time? What if that “missing” emotional insight was there all along, locked away and inaccessible in the mind?
In 2007 John Elder Robison wrote the international bestseller Look Me in the Eye, a memoir about growing up with Asperger’s syndrome. Amid the blaze of publicity that followed, he received a unique invitation: Would John like to take part in a study led by one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists, who would use an experimental new brain therapy known as TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, in an effort to understand and then address the issues at the heart of autism? Switched On is the extraordinary story of what happened next.
Having spent forty years as a social outcast, misreading others’ emotions or missing them completely, John is suddenly able to sense a powerful range of feelings in other people. However, this newfound insight brings unforeseen problems and serious questions. As the emotional ground shifts beneath his feet, John struggles with the very real possibility that choosing to diminish his disability might also mean sacrificing his unique gifts and even some of his closest relationships. Switched On is a real-life Flowers for Algernon, a fascinating and intimate window into what it means to be neurologically different, and what happens when the world as you know it is upended overnight.
“An eye-opening book with a radical message… The transformations [Robison] undergoes throughout the book are astonishing—as foreign and overwhelming as if he woke up one morning with the visual range of a bee or the auditory prowess of a bat.” —The New York Times
“Astonishing, brave… reads like a medical thriller and keeps you wondering what will happen next… [Robison] takes readers for a ride through the thorny thickets of neuroscience and leaves us wanting more.” —The Washington Post
“Fascinating for its insights into Asperger’s and research, this engrossing record will make readers reexamine their preconceptions about this syndrome and the future of brain manipulation.” —Booklist
“Like books by Andrew Solomon and Oliver Sacks, Switched On offers an opportunity to consider mental processes through a combination of powerful narrative and informative medical context.” —BookPage
“A mind-blowing book that will force you to ask deep questions about what is important in life. Would normalizing the brains of those who think differently reduce their motivation for great achievement?” —Temple Grandin, author of “The Autistic Brain”
“At the heart of Switched On are fundamental questions of who we are, of where our identity resides, of difference and disability and free will, which are brought into sharp focus by Robison’s lived experience.” —Graeme Simsion, author of “The Rosie Effect”
Now, in his inspiring and hilarious new book, John offers readers a father-son memoir like no other. By turns tender, suspenseful, and laugh-out-loud funny, this is more than just the story of an unapologetically eccentric dad raising his equally eccentric son. It's the story of a father and son who grow up together.
Misfit, truant, delinquent. John was never a model child, and he wasn't a model dad either. With the delightfully skewed perspective that goes along with his Asperger's, he approached fatherhood as a series of logic puzzles and practical jokes. When his son, Cubby (aka Jack) asked, “Where did I come from?” John said he'd bought him at the Kid Store and that the salesman had cheated him by promising Cubby would “do all chores.” He ditched traditional bedtime stories like Good Night Moon in favor of his own stories about nuclear-powered horses and Santa's origins as a whaling captain. Still, John got the basics right (he made sure Cubby never drank diesel fuel at the automobile repair shop he owns), and he gave him a life of adventure: by the time Cubby was ten, he'd steered a Coast Guard cutter, driven a freight locomotive, and run an antique Rolls-Royce into a fence.
The one thing John couldn't figure out was what to do when school authorities decided that Cubby was dumb and stubborn—the very same thing he had been told as a child. Did Cubby have Asperger's too? The answer was unclear. One thing was clear, though: by the time he turned seventeen, Cubby had become a brilliant chemist—smart enough to make military-grade explosives and bring state and federal agents calling.
On-sale March 12, 2013, just in time for April's National Autism Awareness Month, RAISING CUBBY is an unforgettable chronicle about a different boy being raised by a different kind of father—and about coming to terms with being “on the spectrum” as both a challenge and a unique gift.
BOOKLIST : How does a man who lacks a sense of empathy and an ability to read nonverbal cues learn to be a father? And how does a man with Asperger’s learn to recognize the same symptoms in his own child? (A key element in the book is Robison’s son’s own diagnosis, and Robison’s reaction to his having missed seeing the signs for as long as he had.) In many ways, this is a traditional father-and-son memoir, but the added element of Asperger’s gives the story a stronger emotional core: when Robison and his wife separated, for example, he realized he had been misreading a lot of what had been going on between them. It’s a story of a man learning to be a parent, yes, but it’s also—and perhaps more importantly—the story of a man discovering, as an adult, who he really is.
KIRKUS REVIEWS : Funny and moving… A warmhearted, appealing account by a masterful storyteller.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY : Robison’s third book starts with a bang—his description of the ‘malicious explosion’ created by his teenage Cubby that has the boy, who has Asperger’s syndrome, looking at 60 years in prison, is as disconcerting as it is captivating… With the ensuing investigation and trial, Cubby and the author are drawn into a crazy world that threatens to tear apart their already delicate lives.
PLoSBLOGS : John Elder Robison would stand out in a crowd even if he didn’t have Asperger syndrome. A gruff, powerfully built, tirelessly curious, blue-eyed bear of a man, he hurtles down a San Diego sidewalk toward a promising Mexican restaurant like an unstoppable force of nature. ”What’s keepin’ you stragglers?” he calls back to the shorter-legged ambulators dawdling in his wake. Read more…
Robison’s clear writing provides substantial insight into the mind of someone whose disorder makes clarity very, very difficult. While it’s important to recognize that this is the account of one person with Asperger’s, and as such isn’t about “everyone with Asperger’s,” it is a valuable read nonetheless.
— Matthew Tiffany
Recommended reading for anyone seeking to understand Aspergian children and adults.
The view from inside this little-understood disorder offers both cold comfort and real hope, which makes it an exceptionally useful contribution to the literature.