Monday, May 27, 2013

On a roll...

According to I am still three books behind schedule in accomplishing my goal of reading 30 books in the year 2013. I am hopeful, however, because I have really been plugging along since I graduated. I am loving it! A bookworm's paradise... :)

Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison was another one of the books I got on my book shopping spree shortly before the semester ended. As I completed the classes necessary to receive my minor in Child Psychology, I developed an increasing interest in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's in particular. I'm not sure why exactly, but I as I read this book I discovered that I can relate to individuals with such a diagnosis on some small level. That is not to say that I believe I have an un-diagnosed variation in any way, but I think be open to relating to others is important in understanding people complexly.

On Goodreads, I gave this one three stars. There are a lot of things I liked about it, but let's get the few negatives, and the reason why it didn't receive a higher rating from me, over with. There's a large chunk of the book in which Robison explains in great detail the things he was interested in as a child and as he grew older. While I find it interesting that his greatest interests manifested themselves in his book in this way,  and will venture to say that this is a manifestation of certain characteristics of individuals with Asperger's, these are not my interests, and therefore were dry parts of the book for me. However, I enjoyed all overarching themes of the book and, while I reserve four- and five-star ratings for books that BLOW MY MIND, this particular read was definitely more than "OK" to me.

Robison is an interesting case of Asperger's, in that, due to the relatively recent incorporation in the DSM, he wasn't diagnosed until he was in his forties! This made me think a lot about labels and how they affect people. Robison briefly discusses the plasticity of the brain and mentions that the way children overcome Asperger's is likely strongly related to the types and quality of experiences they have in their lives, and how these experiences encourage a child to develop socially and intellectually. (Interesting side note: Robison experiences this phenomenon as a sort of waxing and waning of social development; whenever he felt more socially aware, he felt less in tune with his intense interests, and vice versa.) Because the author had no diagnosis growing up, I can't help but wonder how a label of Asperger's would have changed his experiences and social development. He seems to fully believe that the label would have made his experiences ten times better, but I'm not so sure. And what I mean by that is, I don't know.

The diagnosis of Asperger's would have given Robison and everyone he knew an explanation for his behavior and characteristics. He argues that he wouldn't have felt like he was just "weird" and that the many counselors and psychologists he saw wouldn't have labeled him as a "sociopath." This is probably all true. However, it's worth noting that perhaps the WORST side effect of labels is that they change the expectations of the individual. Considering what the general public knows about Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's, it's probably fair to say that the average person would not expect an individual with Asperger's to thrive in a position that requires management and frequent interaction with people. On the other hand, if we consider an average person without an Asperger's diagnosis, the general public would likely expect that person to not only interact with other people on a regular basis, but to do it well and effectively. Before Robison received his diagnosis, he found a profession in which he honored his greatest interests, and also required a great deal of positive socialization, and he thrived on both counts. 

I'm not going to claim that labels are either inherently GOOD or inherently BAD, except to say that I acknowledge their necessity. But I think it's an issue that's worth considering, especially when the upcoming version of the DSM will eliminate Asperger's as a diagnosis. The plan is that any child that would be diagnosed with Asperger's will soon be lumped into general Autism Spectrum Disorders. I haven't decided how I feel about this change, but I know that there is one important identifier that distinguishes the two. Both diagnoses indicate a degree of social impairment, but while individuals with autism want to spend their time alone, individuals with Asperger's desperately want to connect with other people. As for me, I feel this distinction is significant. This issues brings us back to the idea of labels. The general publish already has an idea of what they know to be Autism and what they know to be Asperger's and, for many people, the two are very different in many ways. I wonder how the elimination of Asperger's will affect how a child is perceived.... Only time will tell. I would be interested in knowing how Robison feels about this issue.

As demonstrated by my lengthy rant, I certainly found Look Me in the Eye to be very thought-provoking. And with that, I'll leave with my favorite line from it:

"I don't know if it's an Aspergian trait or if it's just me, but I was never affected by celebrity. No matter how famous a musician was, he was just a guy with a broken guitar or an idea for a sound effect to me. But I could never explain that simple reality to other people."

Unlike Robison, I have always experienced the phenomenon of "celebrity," but I find that to be an unfortunate truth. The idea of romanticizing other people is dumb... but that's a whole other soapbox for a different day. :)

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