When I Read: Look Me In The Eye

News in 2015 has been replete of stories of police "mishaps." It could almost approach the point of compassion fatigue if the importance is not explicitly detailed. It's tiring for the soul.  But there's no rest for the weary, and honestly the "phenomenom" is nothing new. Documentation is. One recent story is that of a Bronx teen , Troy Canales, who was punched in the face by cops last year.  Canales is black. That's [sadly] typical in these news stories and almost assumed at this point. According to the New York Daily News and other news sources, Canales is also autistic and has troubles looking people in the eye. Seriously, with the case of missing Avonte Oquendo being so big last year, it would be assumed police officers have more training in this area. Clearly, I am not a medical professional, so I do not know the complete protocol. I do know however, that a little knowledge can go a long way.

Source: Dna.info and johnrobison.com

When reading articles about the Canales case I was transported back to when I read: Look Me in the Eye:My Life with Aspergers. This was random summer reading years ago, but a book I instantly started recommending. Look Me in the Eye is John Elder Robison's memoir of growing up undiagnosed with Aspergers, one of the disorders on the autism spectrum. Aspergers is marked by difficulties with communication, socializing, and using imagination, with a tendency to focus on certain things (like structures and forms) for a long period of time.  Robison brings you on a journey that sometimes feels like a horrible trip. There's a bad little boy, a younger brother (Augusten Burroughs ,author of Running with Scissors), a brilliant but dysfunctional family, careers, love, and life. For Robison, there are labels that he is able to overcome. It isn't until he is well into his adult life that he understands his mental condition which causes him to act differently than most people would.

Thankfully, Robison prevails through his story despite being written off several times.  His memoir is a great reminder of how different people can be, even when we expect everyone to be the same, react the same, feel the same.   The Pixar movie, Inside Out,  allows us to understand this in cartoon fashion, even though not dealing with a disorder outright. We see what happens in "headquarters" when emotions go missing. The changes in mental mood help form people into who they are, and in effect color formative memories. This determines how they then interact with the world.  Look Me in the Eye gives a different glimpse into headquarters. And while Asperger's is more complicated than fleeting emotions, Robison paints different scenes that showcase the thought processes that led him to express himself in contrary manners at different times. Thus his smile at a horrific story was actually him being thankful that his loved ones were safe. It's not the socially acceptable response, but it is the way it was processed in his head. The emotions just focussed on a different detail.

In stories where you learn to understand another point of view, someone often becomes the villain. For Robison it may be the many adults who did not understand what was different about him. In Canales's case it's once again adults, not trained to interact and serve someone in his position. Their daily personal fights against everyone's perceptions, would seem to need a hero, or at least greater education. Their stories highlight changes that everyone can help make. Reading made the difference for me, when I read: Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Aspergers. 


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