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.
John Elder Robison grew up in the 1960s before the Asperger diagnosis came into common use. After dropping out of high school, John worked in the music business where he created sound effects and electronic devices, including the signature illuminated, smoking, and rocket firing guitars he built for KISS. Later John worked on some of the first video games and talking toys at Milton Bradley. After a ten year career in electronics John founded Robison Service, a specialty automobile company in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Today, in addition to running the car company, John is the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary. He is a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee which makes the Strategic Plan for Autism for the US government. He has served as a panel member for the Institute for Autism Research, The Centers for Disease Control, The National Institutes of Mental Health.
John is very active in his efforts to support and promote research leading to therapies or treatments that will improve the lives of people who live with autism in all its forms today. John is widely known as an advocate for people with autism and neurological differences.
John is the author of Switched On; Look Me in the Eye; Be Different, Adventures of a free-range Aspergian; and Raising Cubby, a unique tale of parenting. John’s writing has been translated into sixteen languages and his work is sold in over 60 countries. His writing also appears in a number of magazines and he’s a regular blogger on Psychology Today.
John’s newest book – Switched On – tells the story of his participation in groundbreaking brain stimulation at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
In addition to his autism advocacy work, John is a lifelong car enthusiast, an avid hiker, a photographer, a music lover, and a world-class champion eater. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
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