John Elder Robison

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John Elder Robison
Born (1957-08-13) August 13, 1957 (age 57)
Athens, Georgia, U.S.
Occupation Public speaker, Memoirist, Engineer, Inventor
Nationality American
Period 2007–present
Subject Memoir, Autism
Notable works Look Me in the Eye (2007), Be Different (2011)

John Elder Robison (born August 13, 1957)[1] is the author of the 2007 memoir Look Me in the Eye, detailing his life living with Asperger syndrome and Savant abilities. He is the elder brother of memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who also wrote about his childhood in the memoir Running with Scissors.[2] Robison is also active in the Autism rights movement.

Early life[edit]

Robison was born in Athens, Georgia, while his parents were attending the University of Georgia. He is the son of poet Margaret Robison and the late John G. Robison (1935–2005), former head of the philosophy department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.[3] After John Elder's birth, the family lived in Philadelphia, Seattle, and Pittsburgh, where his brother Augusten Burroughs (born Christopher) was born. In 1966 he and his family settled in Amherst, Massachusetts where he spent most of his childhood.

Robison dropped out of Amherst High School in the tenth grade, to join the Amherst-based rock band Fat, but later an honorary diploma from The Monarch School in Houston in May 2008. Dr. Marty Webb, founder and head of The Monarch School, stated that “it is unconscionable to me as an educator ... that someone of John's intelligence, competence and life achievement is walking around without a high school diploma.” Monarch, dedicated to providing an innovative, therapeutic education for individuals with neurological differences, has collaborated with Robison on the development of teacher guides for his best seller, Look Me in the Eye as well as the sequel, Be Different.

Several years later, his ability to design electronic circuits allowed him to work for Brittania Row Autio (Britro), Pink Floyd's sound company. After that he worked for KISS, for whom he created their signature illuminated, fire-breathing, and rocket launching guitars. He subsequently designed electronic games at toy maker Milton Bradley. Robison then worked for Simplex Time Recorder, Isoreg Corporation and Candela Laser of Wayland, Massachusetts. He later managed J E Robison Service Co. from his backyard. He became successful from the venture, the business being one of the largest independent Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialty shops in the country, and becoming one of only 20 four-star service agents for Robert Bosch GmbH of Germany.[citation needed]

Asperger syndrome[edit]

Like many people his age, Robison was unaware that he had Asperger syndrome, first learning of his condition when he was 40 years old. As of 2009, Robison serves as a spokesman for the Graduate Autism Program at the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, Massachusetts. He has also worked with Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone of Harvard Medical School and Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on the use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation as an experimental autism treatment. Robison has written about that work on his blog and elsewhere. He has been interviewed by Diane Rehm on NPR, Leonard Lopate of WNYC, and Erin Moriarty of CBS Sunday Morning. He has appeared on CBS News, The Today Show, and other news programs. He was profiled in a 2011 segment of the Discovery Science show Ingenious Minds.

Recent life[edit]

John Elder Robison talks about Be Different on Bookbits radio.

In June 2009, Robison served as a public reviewer for the National Institute of Mental Health when it reviewed applications for autism research that is to be funded as part of the economic stimulus package of 2009. Today Robison serves as a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which produces the Strategic Plan for Autism for the US Federal government.

In early 2011, Robison's guide for people with Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Be Different, was published. It includes what things to say in social situations, how to fit in, and some of his experiences that were not expressed in Look Me in the Eye. His latest book, Raising Cubby, a memoir of parenting a son with Asperger's, was released in March 2013.

Robison lives with his wife Maripat Robison in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is still continuing his activism across the country.

Autism rights[edit]

Robison was a discussant for the Autism Social, Legal, and Ethical Research Special Interest Group at the 2014 International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). He ended up taking the group to task, stating that the autism science community is headed for disaster if it does not change course on several factors – and noting for context the larger size of the US autistic community in proportion to other minority groups such as Jewish or Native American communities.

Robison asserted that autistic people need to be the ones providing oversight and governance for autism research. He condemned the use of words like “cure.” He pointed out that researchers’ explicit or implicit efforts to eradicate autistic people is a formula for disaster and needs to stop. And he affirmed that memoirs and narratives written by autistic people are more trustworthy than writing about autism by nonautistics.[4]


  1. ^ Robison, John Elder. "It's my birthday. I'm 50 today". Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  2. ^ My Life with Asperger's: John Elder Robison - Life Matters - ABC Radio National
  3. ^ Robison, John Elder (2007). Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's. New York City: Crown. p. 304. ISBN 0-7393-5768-9. 
  4. ^ John Robison at IMFAR: On Autism Rights, Ethics, & Priorities

External links[edit]