Imagine spending the first forty years of your life in darkness, blind to the emotions and social signals of other people. Then imagine that someone suddenly switches the lights on.
It has long been assumed that people living with autism are born with the diminished ability to read the emotions of others, even as they feel emotion deeply. But what if we’ve been wrong all this time? What if that “missing” emotional insight was there all along, locked away and inaccessible in the mind?
In 2007 John Elder Robison wrote the international bestseller Look Me in the Eye, a memoir about growing up with Asperger’s syndrome. Amid the blaze of publicity that followed, he received a unique invitation: Would John like to take part in a study led by one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists, who would use an experimental new brain therapy known as TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, in an effort to understand and then address the issues at the heart of autism? Switched Onis the extraordinary story of what happened next.
Having spent forty years as a social outcast, misreading others’ emotions or missing them completely, John is suddenly able to sense a powerful range of feelings in other people. However, this newfound insight brings unforeseen problems and serious questions. As the emotional ground shifts beneath his feet, John struggles with the very real possibility that choosing to diminish his disability might also mean sacrificing his unique gifts and even some of his closest relationships.
Length: 321 pages
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau
Release Date: March 22, 2016
About the Author
Autism fascinates me, as it does many people. Not like in the, “people with autism are so peculiar” kind of fascinating, but in the “we wouldn’t have most of our inventions without autism” kind of way.
Of course, it can be absolutely debilitating (as is the case with my brother-in-law), but it can also unlock such fantastic potential that wouldn’t have been unleashed without the brain being wired a little differently.
But being different has its costs, as is seen in this fascinating book. Someone may be brilliant at what they do, but if they can’t sense emotional cues in others, read body language, and pick up on subtle nuances with those around you, being brilliant isn’t always enough.
And John wanted to change that. When he had the opportunity to participate in a study that would allow him to tap into this emotional insight that he’d been missing all those years, his life changed forever. Not only did the treatments work, but he now could remember his actions and conversations over the years as others had experienced them…and it was horrifying to him. He could see himself as others did, and could see everything he had done wrong.
Not only that, but he was now acutely aware of the fragile emotions his wife who suffered from depression experienced on a day-to-day basis. It had never bothered him before. And now? It was overwhelming. What he thought was liberation, his new emotional insight, was actually causing great amounts of stress for him and his family.
The story as it unfolds is intriguing as we are allowed into John’s head to catch just a glimpse of what he has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. There were times I was a bit bored, I’ll admit. There were some very slow chapters where John delves into the intricacies of the procedures he experienced with minute details.
But notwithstanding, I found it very interesting and am giving it 4 out of 5 Stars.
Switched On is available digitally, as well as in paperback, hardback, and audio CD. Click on the image below for more information.