John Elder Robison

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John Elder Robison
John Robison, individual with Asperger syndrome, autism activist, May 2011.jpg
Robison in 2011
Born (1957-08-13) August 13, 1957 (age 59)
Athens, Georgia, U.S.
Occupation Memoirist
Nationality American
Period 2007–present
Subject Memoir, autism
Notable works Look Me in the Eye (2007), Be Different (2011), Switched On (2016)
Relatives Augusten Burroughs (brother)

John Elder Robison (born August 13, 1957)[1] is the author of the 2007 memoir Look Me in the Eye, detailing his life with undiagnosed Asperger syndrome and savant abilities, and of three other books. Robison has had several careers. In the 1970s he worked as an engineer in the music business where he is best known for creating the signature special effects guitars played by the band KISS. In the 1980s Robison worked for electronics manufacturers Milton Bradley (electronic games), Simplex (fire alarms and building control), and ISOREG (power conditioning systems). Robison wrote his first book at age 49.

Personal information[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.[2] Robison dropped out of high school in the tenth grade.[3]

He married three times and has one son.[4]

He is the elder brother of memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who also wrote about his childhood in the memoir Running with Scissors.[5]

He was self-diagnosed with Asperger's at 40.[6]

In 2011, Robison was featured on an episode of Ingenious Minds, which discussed some of the transcranial magnetic stimulation experiments he underwent to improve his social cognition.[7]


In Look Me in the Eye, Robison describes growing up with no diagnosis of his autism, but aware that he was different, and how he was first diagnosed by a therapist friend when he was 40 years old. After writing that book Robison became active in the planning of autism research, and in autism advocacy.[8]

Robison is also the author of Be Different (2011) a how-to guide for grown ups with autism; Raising Cubby (2013) the story of raising his autistic son;[9] and Switched On (2016) which tells the story of his participation as a research subject in brain studies using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.[10]


Robison taught himself about electric circuits and sound waves. He used his self-taught knowledge to design guitars for the rock band KISS and toys for Milton Bradley.[11]

Robison runs a successful car specialty shop.[11] He is the founder of J E Robison Service in Springfield, MA. Robison Service is an authorized Bosch Car Service Center that specializes in high-end European auto service and restoration.[12] Robison Service is part of the Springfield Automotive Complex, which is also home to the TCS Auto Program, a licensed special education high school that teaches life skills in the context of a working commercial auto complex. The school is a partnership of Robison and Tri County Schools, a part of Northeast Center for Youth and Families of Easthampton, MA.[13]


Robison is active in the autism rights movement. He volunteered at Autism Speaks as a member of their treatment and advisory boards, claiming that he was interested in helping remediate the disabling aspects of autism. He resigned in 2013 following an op-ed released by Suzanne Wright, a co-founder of Autism Speaks. Robison and other members of the autism community criticized Wright for proclaiming that families affected by autism lived in "despair" and in "fear of the future".[14][15]

Since 2012, Robison has been the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Robison is also co-chair of the campus neurodiversity committee, which is housed in the President’s office of diversity. Robison co-teaches neurodiversity courses at the Williamsburg and Washington DC campuses.[16]

Since 2012, Robison has served as a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. The Committee is responsible for producing the Strategic Plan for Autism for the US government, and the Annual Summary of Advances in Autism Research. The committee reports to the secretary of health and human services, who oversees the CDC, NIH, and HRSA autism programs. The IACC also coordinates autism efforts with other government agencies, including social security, defense, and education.

Within IACC and other government committees Robison is known for taking the position that autistic people should have the lead voice in defining autism research goals.[17]


  1. ^ Robison, John Elder. "It's my birthday. I'm 50 today". Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ John Elder Robison personal life
  4. ^ John Elder Robison personal life
  5. ^ My Life with Asperger's: John Elder Robison - Life Matters - ABC Radio National
  6. ^ "LJ Talks to John Elder Robison". Library Journal. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  7. ^ "Ingenious Minds, John Robison". Science Channel. Archived from the original on May 26, 2012. Retrieved 1 April 2016. 
  8. ^ Robison, John (2007). Look Me in the Eye. Crown Publishers. 
  9. ^ Hertzel, Laurie. "John Elder Robison's new book takes a fresh look at autism". Star Tribune. Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Ellis, Amy Ellis. "Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening". ArcaMax. Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  11. ^ a b Gonsalves, Susan. "Show the world we're valuable, author with Asperger's says". Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  12. ^ "For Your Vehicle". Bosch Car Service. Retrieved 2016-03-03. 
  13. ^ "Tri-County Schools - Northeast Center for Youth and Families". Retrieved 2016-03-03. 
  14. ^ I resign my roles at Autism Speaks
  15. ^ Diament, Michelle. "Noted Self-advocate Cuts Ties with Autism Speaks". Disability Scoop. Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  16. ^ "William & Mary - John Elder Robison". Retrieved 2016-03-03. 
  17. ^ "IACC Website". 

External links[edit]