Robinson who has written other books about autism has a difficult start in life. He grew up feeling different and not knowing why or how to label it. He was frequently told he needed to look people in the eye. Ostracized by kids, he turned to adults who were more forgiving of his lack of social graces. He learned to love machines (e.g. trains and amplifiers) and could visualize complex equations in his head.
In spite of a high intelligence, he could not adapt to school and dropped out at 16. He was a practical joker who learned to create elaborate devices that would fool the eye. He was also spending more and more time learning the ins and outs of the music industry.
Eventually, he created a guitar that appeared to explode on stage, which the band KISS became famous for. Several chapters in Look Me in the Eye are devoted to adventures he had while working as a sound engineer for KISS. The band paid well but sporadically. Robison eventually explored a career in the corporate world.
Despite not having an electrical engineering degree, Robinson found working at Milton Bradley an easy fit. He could designing electronic toys as well if not better than any of the engineers with degrees.
As good as he was at design, though, he could not hack the corporate culture:”I was thoroughly sick of all the criticism. I was sick of life. Literally. I had come down with asthma, and attacks were sending me to the emergency room every few months. I hated to get up and face another day at work. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to stop forcing myself to fit into something I could never be a part of A big company. A group. A team.”
Robinson thought the answer is to create his own business, repairing high-end cars like Land Rovers and Rolls-Royces. While that works for awhile, it isn’t completely satisfying.
A friend who was also a therapist helps him making a discovery about himself that changes his outlook on life. The chapter, “A Diagnosis at Forty” focuses on his coming to terms with his diagnosis.
Robinson not only comes to terms with his autism, he also makes peace with his parents who were at times indifferent and abusive while he was growing up.
This is an intimate portrait of one man’s journey with autism and how it affected his professional life and personal life. He writes about his son, who also has autism, in a separate book, Raising Cubby. Robison also writes about his search for experimental therapies in Switched On.
Robison is a scholar-in-residence at the College of William and Mary.