Friday, July 29, 2011

Look Me in the Eye

I was up late last night (this morning), finishing this book. I had a hard time getting into it, at first. The author has Aspergers, and this is his memoir. He is the brother of Augusten Burroughs, who wrote Running With Scissors. They had a, interesting, but rather dysfunctional childhood (to say the least), and he had an undiagnosed Autism disorder on top of it. In fact he was not diagnosed until he was in his 40s. At the time he was growing up, there was no such thing as Aspergers.

Anyway, at first, I struggled with some of the issues he faced as a young kid, early teen. I think it hit too close to home, as Riley has experienced some of the same bullying, lack of understanding. Then there were the parts about these pranks he played-some quite dangerous, and I got a little worried. I relaxed when I realized that Riley doesn't have this author's obsession for machines.

So this guy has done some interesting things since dropping out of high school (that scares me too). He worked for KISS, he created Ace Frehley's exploding guitars. He worked making electronic toys, as a corporate manager, and he worked servicing expensive cars (his own business). Pretty amazing that he did so much, and did so well, without an education. It just proves that school is not for everybody. What he said though, was that Aspergers kind of helped him achieve. One Aspergerian trait is to become an expert at things that interest you, which is what he did. He read a lot and studied a lot, and taught himself. I can see that in Riley too-he's quite an expert in his favorite subject areas (Disney). When he wants to know about something, he looks it up on the computer, or his phone, and learns all about it.

Toward the end of the book though, he talks about his relationships, and his son (also on the spectrum), but the thing that I take the most relief from is that he said his social skills improved, as he matured. Having to work with people, at his jobs, helped him to learn better communication skills, and he has this awareness of that now, that's just amazing. He still can't read people, but he's learned enough about the social "rules," that he is much better at communicating, or being "presentable" to people, and not a turn off. Riley's social skills are fairly limited. He's unable to just strike up a conversation with a peer. He can talk to us, or his grandparents, or his friends (although I am not sure he initiates the conversations with his friends, he may just add on to their conversations), and even some of our friends, but it's always in reference to something he may have heard someone say, or to tell about something that interests him. The author also credited the adults in his life, for always engaging him, and keeping him from withdrawing. He didn't feel like he needed people. It was difficult for him to fit in, although he wanted to. I feel like I have to engage Riley. I have to draw him out. We have to show an interest in his interests, just to get him talking. He loves to have his alone time, and that's fine and good, but he needs to be engaged. We are lucky, because our friends and family engage him as well. He is not ignored. People greet him, and talk to him (well most anyway). I think people need to realize that if you get him talking about his interests, he's quite passionate about them, and will talk a lot. He's not good at chit chat pleasantries though.

This author also has issues with names. I found this so interesting, because Riley doesn't call anybody by their name. This author gives his own names to people, but Riley doesn't do that, he just doesn't call anybody anything, except his brother. He refers to people when talking, "my mom, my dad, my grandparents" etc, but he doesn't usually call us by those names. He just starts talking, or says, "um" to let you know he's going to speak. When we met with the woman from the Regional Center, she asked when that changed. It happened when he was transitioning from calling us mommy and daddy. I think maybe he thought we would be hurt if he stopped calling us mommy and daddy, opting instead for mom and dad. I tried explaining it to him, but it hasn't worked. Quinn transitioned with no problems at all, and will scream "MOM!" from his room. Riley will never do that. He will come to us. In a gift shop at the Museum of Natural History, in DC, he called me mom twice. He was looking at rocks and wanted my attention, and I was a little distance from him, and he said, "mom." He had to do it twice because the first time I didn't answer (as I am not used to him addressing me that way). I played it off and didn't make a big deal out of it, I simply went to look at his rocks, but inside I was happy.

I gave the book 3 stars on Goodreads, but I think I will go back and change it. I've been thinking about it a lot today, so it obviously made an impression. I appreciated the insight, and I am motivated to read his latest book.

PS: The author also had lots of trouble making eye contact as a kid-hence the title. Riley has a big problem with this too.


  1. I have to admit, I also worry about Riley...but I also have to remember that we, as a family, will never give up working with him...he is in very good hands having parents like you and Kevin..I love how well you explain everything to the readers of your blog....the book sounds a bit more interesting to me now..I am glad you read it..I think with every book you read about this subject, the better you will feel...remember, weather it is Aspergers or Autism Riley does not have him...:)

  2. Hi Julie. My brother also does not use conventional names. Growing up he actually renamed my sister and me. She got "Thelma Lou" (hahahahaha). I'm not sure what he calls his wife. Thanks for the post,as I learn more about Aspergers I see more and more of my brother. xoxo