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Preview: Look Me In The Eye

Look Me In The Eye



Official blog of NYT bestselling author, photographer, educator, neurodiversity advocate and automobile aficionado John Elder Robison.



Last Build Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2018 16:43:10 +0000

 



Look Me in the Eye in Australia

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 16:32:00 +0000

One of the exciting things about this publication process is the fact that my book is appearing all over the English-speaking world. This blog has a photo of the American cover, but that's not the only edition of the book.


Look Me in the Eye is being published in Australia and New Zealand in October, and then three months later in the British Isles.


(image)



Thoughts from Australia

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 16:22:00 +0000

This is my last day at the Melbourne Writer's Festival.  I'll be doing my last program at 4PM, and then it's off the University of Western Australia in Perth.  Thanks to the organizers and sponsors for bringing me down here, and also to Antonia Hayes at Random House for setting everything up.The Festival is held in the Australia Center for the Moving Image, a striking complex on the Yarra River.  This is BMW EDGE.  I was a guest there for the Friday night event.The people have all been friendly. Here are some other images of the festivalAs an American who's never been here before I can't help but see some contrasts between this country and my own.  The first thing I saw was the cars. (c) 2007-2011 John Elder Robison[...]



The blog is updated

Sun, 28 Jan 2018 21:54:00 +0000

I am pleased to announce the first-ever change in the style of this blog.  I hope you find it more accessible and usable.  This is the first update to the blog’s design since it was styles by the folks at Random House for the release of Look Me in the Eye.  How much has changed since then!  Right now I’m working on labeling the 560-some posts and we’ve now got a search box at the top of the pageCircus at The Big E, West Springfield, MAJohn Rando's Long Wheelbase Shadow restoration takes 1st at the RROC National MeetFlowers in the GardenOn the big stage, Big EVolcanoSouthwest desertBentley Flying SpurSan Francisco cable carInside a transmission(c) 2007-2011 John Elder Robison[...]



Join us in Washington for January IACC - the US Govt's autism committee

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 14:17:00 +0000

Meeting of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Please join us for an IACC Full Committee meeting that will take place on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET at the Bethesda Marriott Hotel, 5151 Pooks Hill Road, Bethesda, MD 20814. Onsite registration will begin at 8:00 a.m.  The meeting will also be available by live webcast and conference call.Agenda: To discuss business, updates, and issues related to ASD research and services activities.Meeting location:Bethesda Marriot Hotel5151 Pooks Hill RoadBethesda, MD 20814AccessMedical Center (Red Line) in combination with a 26 minute walk or short taxi ride; parking available at the hotel those who driveSecurity:Visitors will be asked to sign in and show one form of identification (for example, a government-issued photo ID, driver’s license, or passport) at the meeting registration desk during the check-in process. Pre-registration is recommended. Seating will be limited to the room capacity and seats will be on a first come, first served basis, with expedited check-in for those who are pre-registered.Remote Access:The meeting will be remotely accessible by videocast and conference call.  Members of the public who participate using the conference call phone number will be in listen-only mode.Public Comment – Guidelines:Any member of the public interested in presenting oral comments to the Committee must notify the Contact Person listed on this notice by 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, January 5, 2018, with their request to present oral comments at the meeting, and a written/electronic copy of the oral presentation/statement must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, January 9, 2018.A limited number of slots for oral comment are available, and in order to ensure that as many different individuals are able to present throughout the year as possible, any given individual only will be permitted to present oral comments once per calendar year (2018). Only one representative of an organization will be allowed to present oral comments in any given meeting; other representatives of the same group may provide written comments.  If the oral comment session is full, individuals who could not be accommodated are welcome to provide written comments instead.  Commenters will have 3-5 minutes to present their comments depending on the number of commenters, but a longer version may be submitted in writing for the record.  Commenters going beyond their given time slot in the meeting may be asked to conclude immediately in order to allow other comments and presentations to proceed on schedule.  Any interested person may submit written public comments to the IACC prior to the meeting by e-mailing the comments to IACCPublicInquiries@mail.nih.govor by submitting comments at the web link: https://iacc.hhs.gov/meetings/public-comments/submit/index.jsp by 5:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, January 9, 2018.  The comments should include the name and e-mail address for contact purposes, and when applicable, the business or professional affiliation of the interested person.  NIMH anticipates written public comments received by 5:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 will be presented to the Committee prior to the meeting for the Committee’s consideration.  Any written comments received after the 5:00 p.m. ET, January 9, 2018 deadline through January 16, 2018 will be provided to the Committee either before or after the meeting, depending on the volume of comments received and the time required to process them in accordance with privacy regulations and other applicable Federal policies.  All written public comments and oral public comment statements received by the deadlines for both oral and written public comments will be provided to the IACC for their consideration and will become part of the public record.  Attachments of copyrighted publications are not permitted, but web links or citations for a[...]



Limiters, Compressors, and how to play music loud

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 16:37:00 +0000

The excessive volume of commercials has struck everyone who’s watched television.  You’re watching a show at a comfortable volume, and there’s a commercial break, and suddenly you are blasted out of your seat.  If you had the volume on 5 it feels like it just went up to 100, all by itself.  How does that happen?I was reminded of that question when reading a new book - Damon Krukowski’s The New Analog – Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World.  The book tackles that question in the context of the transition from analog to digital audio and television.  Younger readers may not remember that transition (it was a process, not a single event) but all of us who were adults in the 1980s lived through it not once but many times.Journey in concert (c) John E RobisonFirst there was the transition from vinyl records (analog) to compact discs (digital.)  Then the audio processing went digital, with smartphone apps replacing sound processors and digital Bluetooth links replacing analog headphone cords.    Call phones started as analog and now are all digital, and far more capable for the change.But interestingly, it’s not digital technology that allows those commercials to blast us.  That is an old analog trick that came from the radio broadcast world seventy-plus years ago.In his book Krukowski shows waveform samples from two versions of a popular song, showing how one version has “normal” dynamic range and the “loud” version has everything pressed to the maximum.  Any listener would say the second version is louder than the first, but an engineer would point out that the peak energy in both programs is the same.  Krukowski explains that everything was turned up, but maximum volume remained the same, so that the soft passages got louder and the loud passages all became 100%, or full volume.  What he does not explain is how that happened without the music getting horribly distorted.Building upon his excellent book I’d like to offer that missing explanation. The answer to how music got louder is compression and limiting, two technologies that existed for a long time but which were enhanced dramatically in the 1970s.I designed compression and limiting systems when I worked as an audio engineer.  Limiters were originally developed for radio broadcasting, where too much program volume corrupted the radio transmission.  Limiters prevented that by turning the program down automatically if the radio announcer got too exuberant.Limiters operate by measuring the peak level of a program and turning down volume when a preset threshold is exceeded.  If the limiting threshold is set below the level a sound system can deliver cleanly, the system will in principle always be clean.As concert sound systems grew larger in the 1970s sound engineers realized something else.  When amplifiers are driven beyond full power the output waveform is “clipped” at the maximum level the system can deliver.  Clipping turns a smooth musical wave into a harsh square wave.  Listeners know this clipping as “fuzz,” a sound effect that remains popular today.  When one instrument is clipped the effect sounds purposeful.  When the whole musical program is clipped, the whole program sounds bad.  Sound quality is not the only casualty when amplifiers clip.  Clipping is also destructive to speakers. In fact, most concert speaker failures are traceable to excessive clipping.  Horn drivers are prone to shatter and voice coils in speakers overheat and deform.In 1978 I spent the whole of April Wine’s FirstGlance tour replacing speaker diaphragms after they shattered from the lack of limiters in Pink Floyd’s Britannia Row rental sound system.  It was that tour that showed us the need for limiters on each of the amplifier banks in a multi-way system.April Wine - First Glance tour plans  photo (c) Jo[...]



Rolls-Royce and Bentley serial numbers - 1980s and early 1990s

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:40:00 +0000

Modern cars have standard machine readable vehicle identification (VIN) numbers.  Old cars have numbering methods that vary from one brand to the next.  In this essay I will show you what numbers look like on Rolls-Royce and Bentley motorcars from the 1970s Shadow through the 1990s Spur eraThis article is illustrated with images of a 1983 Rolls-Royce and a 1990 Bentley.  The 1983 car is a Corniche Drophead; the 1990 is a Continental ConvertibleThe number plate most people know is in the driver door jamb - the area of body in front of the front door.  You should see a small plate that identifies the model (Continental in this example) and a larger plate with the date of manufacture and gross vehicle weight (the maximum the car can weigh, fully loaded) and the gross axle weights (the maximum weight on each axle, fully loaded.)The large plate has the vehicle identification number and say the car meets requirements for whatever market for which it was originally built.  The photo here shows a US market car but other markets are similar.Cars built after 1987 should have bar code tags with a machine readable version of the VIN at the rear edge of the doors, as shown below:You should see a metal plate with the VIN at the base or side edge of the windshield:If you open the hood (bonnet) you will see a body number plate on the firewall.  This shows the body number, which is the fourth digit of the VIN, and the last 7 digits.  Reading the plate below you can see how the body number is derived from the whole VIN, shown in the photos above at the windshield base.The plate on the left underside face of the bonnet (hood) gives the paint and interior trim codes.  Some cars will have one code; two-tone vehicles will have two.The VIN is also stamped into a structural part of the body on or adjacent to the right front strut tower or wheel well, as shown below.  Newer cars will have a bar code VIN tag on the strut tower also.Here is an excellent article on decoding Rolls-Royce and Bentley numbers.Here is an earlier article on chassis and engine serial numbers, using a 1972 car as example.  This is on the Robison Service blog also© 2017 John Elder RobisonJohn Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Bentley, Rolls-Royce, BMW/MINI, Mercedes, and Land Rover restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British and German motorcars.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick. (c) 2007-2011 John Elder Robison[...]



Thoughts on To Siri With Love

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 02:04:00 +0000

I just finished a controversial new book, To Siri With Loveby Judith Newman. Reading this book made me feel like memoirs from autism moms are a thing whose time has come and gone . . .At the same time, I can’t help but believe the publisher who brought this story to market, and the reviewers who praised it, must not share that opinion.  And of course the author does not seem to hold that opinion either.  I’ve no doubt she loves her autistic son and wants the best for him.  So why do I find this book troubling, even as the non-autistic literary community has lavished praise upon it?  And lest you think it’s just me that is troubled . . . the reason I read the book was the storm of tweets and messages I received from autistic people urging me to boycott or criticize it.Perhaps this is an autistic thing. Maybe it's a situation where non-autistics find a story about one of our tribe interesting or entertaining, even as we autistics find the same words deeply troubling.Without giving it all away, I’d say the author’s attitudes toward her son, her family, and autism appear to be at odds with the set of values and ideals that is taking shape among autistic self advocates today.  It would be a great understatement to say the author’s views would be aggressively challenged by, for example, the neurodiversity students at a university like my own William & Mary.As expressed in the book, the author’s ideas triggered many autistic readers (including yours truly) to such an extent that the book’s other messages were missed. For example, the premise of the title - that a young autistic fellow could find a friend in Apple’s Siri seems largely lost.  Little is made of the relationship between Gus – the autistic star of the book – and Siri other than to dismiss it for shallowness and nonhuman nature.I found that ironic as I’d written a chapter “One With The Machine,” in Look Me in the Eye. In that I describe talking to and becoming part of a concert lighting system.  Not one of the million-plus people who read that story called it shallow.  If I could talk to lighting, why can’t Gus talk to Siri? It’s not for me to answer, but I’d speculate that the mom may not understand that aspect of her son, and she dismisses what she doesn’t get.  I don’t know her, but I know that is a common human trait and I’ve known other people who would behave exactly that way.The tone of the book left me feeling uncomfortable in many spots. I had that feeling when the author talked about her non-autistic son (musing about masturbation), her husband (who made her suffer through endless monologues about the subway, which she says she tolerated so he wouldn’t inflict them on someone else) and her autistic son Gus (for whom she wishes to remain adult guardian in case she needs to regulate his reproductive ability.)That last bit was particularly disturbing to many autistic readers.  Her description of Gus is that of a sweet, kind teenager who thinks and talks, and gains more skills with every passing year.  Guardianship law mandates that people with developmental challenges be given the maximum amount of self-determination, which seems opposite her stated goal.  If I were Gus and I read that, I would run away tomorrow and take my chances on the street.  Now, the author may feel that's irrelevant because her son won't read it and react that way, but putting her son aside, I'm surprised she did not consider how badly another autistic person might react to those words.  They clearly position her writing as from a non-autistic parent's perspective and embodies much of what actual autistic people criticize in such literature.Early in the book Newman implies her  son is not fully sentient. She asks why she is unable to find anything she can share with him.  Yet her descriptions paint a p[...]



If you could change autism research today, what would you do?

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 04:27:00 +0000

Recently I suggested that people who are actually autistic need to have a strong voice in guiding autism research.  I made the point that anyone who is not autistic is simply guessing when it comes to interpreting our behaviors.  Only an autistic person can truly know autistic life.  That is not a slight against parents; it is just reality.Some autistic people are parents too, and they have both perspectives.  That’s particularly valuable.  And parents as a group are the only ones who can report fully on the development of very young children who can’t speak for themselves.But it leaves a fundamental question unanswered.  If I believe autistic people should have a strong voice in guiding research, what would I ask for?Autism is a difference that affects us through the lifespan.  Childhood is 20-25% of the typical lifespan.  Less than 5% of current research is directed toward understanding adult issues.  I would shoot for 50% of newly funded research addressing at either adult or full lifespan issues.I’d require that proposed research include a statement from autistic community members about the methodology, utility, and ethics of the proposed study.  I’d expect at least half the community members to be actual autistic people with the others being parents and professionals.As for the topics of study . . .I’d make the study of apparent early mortality of autistic people a top priority.  Why does it happen and what can we do?The initial findings on suicide and suicidal ideation are scary enough that I think that area deserves its own concentration of study.I’d put considerably more emphasis on understanding the co-occurring conditions that accompany autism.  Epilepsy, anxiety, intestinal issues, depression, and others.  Most of these conditions seem more resistant to treatment or control in autistic people.  Why is that and what can we do?  If we could control or remediate these symptoms we’d be a lot closer to minimizing autistic disability.Look at epilepsy in the general population.  Successful management via meds means no seizures.  Now look at many autistics - same meds every day, but seizures still happen.  Poor control.  Or take depression.  Autistic and non autistic mostly manage with meds.  Yet we autistics are nine times more likely to kill ourselves.   Why are our outcomes so much worse?Many autistic people have sleep problems.  That is another co occurring condition that merits more study.  The number of problems associated with these co-occcurring conditions make me think that a large fraction of the pain and suffering we autistics experience comes from those things, and if we could relieve that it would be a really big deal.I’d encourage research aimed at improving communication skills, both verbal and non verbal.  We've funded programs like PEERS and UNSTUCK to tremendous benefit.  I’d encourage research into improving executive function for autistic people at all levels of support.I’d figure out how to expand apprenticeship/work training programs like Project Search that can transition both low and high support autistic people into the workforce.  These projects have shown very encouraging results but we don’t know how to replicate them widely.I’d seek research proposals from engineering and industrial design people looking for innovative solutions to help non speaking autistics communicate.  We have letter and symbol boards, and ipad versions of same, but I think there is a lot more potential there.  Unlocking communication is the biggest thing we could do to relieve disability in some people.I’d study other ways technology could be used to minimize our autistic disabilities.  We think of autism as something we’ll address through medical treatme[...]



A Change in Direction for the Federal Autism Committee

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 13:33:00 +0000

I am pleased to see that our government’s understanding of autism is changing.  For the first time, the IACC’s Strategic Plan recognizes that the needs of people living with autism today are paramount.  This portion of the introduction to the 2016-17 Update speaks for itself:The IACC has moved toward a paradigm shift in how we approach autism. A few years ago, scientists saw autism as a disorder to be detected, treated, prevented and cured. The majority of research was directed at understanding the genetic and biological foundations of autism, and toward early detection and intervention. Today, our understanding of autism is more nuanced. We realize that there are many different “autisms” – some severe, and some comparatively mild – and that ASD affects several distinct domains of functioning differently in each individual. We have come to understand that autism is far more common than previously suspected and there are most likely many undiagnosed children, adolescents, and adults in the population, as well as under-identified and underserved individuals and groups, such as girls/women with ASD, people in poorly resourced settings, members of underserved minority communities, and individuals on the autism spectrum with language and/or intellectual disabilities. Most importantly, individuals on the autism spectrum have become leading voices in the conversation about autism, spurring acknowledgment of the unique qualities that people on the autism spectrum contribute to society and promoting self-direction, awareness, acceptance and inclusion as important societal goals. Research on genetic risk and the underlying basic biology of ASD remains a primary focus of the research portfolio and does play an important long-term role in the potential to develop new and broadly beneficial therapies and interventions. These advances may one day mitigate or even eliminate some of the most disabling aspects of autism, especially for those on the spectrum who are most severely impacted. However, balanced with the potential for long term efforts to lead to significant future advance and opportunities, is the importance of efforts that can have a more immediate impact. Individuals on the autism spectrum today will remain autistic for the foreseeable future; most of them have significant unmet needs. To help those people – who range in age from infants to senior citizens – we must in the short-term translate existing research to develop effective tools and strategies to maximize quality of life, and minimize disability, while also ensuring that individuals on the autism spectrum are accepted, included, and integrated in all aspects of community life. The community has been very clear in its calls for more research into adult issues and better services and supports for the millions of Americans living with autism today. Recent studies of adult mortality have indicated that people with ASD are at higher risk of premature death than people in the general population, painting a very disturbing picture that bears investigation. In light of data and insights from the community, the IACC proposes a comprehensive research agenda that addresses the needs of autistic people across the spectrum and across the lifespan, including improvements to services, supports, and policies. The IACC also believes that, as many in the autism community have indicated, efforts to address the many co-occurring conditions that accompany autism should be made a greater priority.IACC in session, at NIH in Bethesda MD J E Robison photo(c) 2007-2011 John Elder Robison[...]



A Death in the Night, and Pause for Thought

Sat, 19 Aug 2017 16:57:00 +0000

This morning I arrived work to a disturbing piece of news.  “A pedestrian got killed by a car last night in . . . .”  Our complex is home to a fleet of emergency ambulances and we hear lots of things, but deaths still stand out.“She used to live at the State School,” and “I remember seeing her cross the street with her cat on a leash.  Inside a cat carrier box.  Just pulling it along behind her.”   “She would just walk out in front of cars, and I guess one finally got her.” Later, comments following a newspaper article would describe her as eccentric, and “Our town’s most famous pedestrian.”I perked my ears up at that, because the Belchertown State School was where teachers threatened to send me, forty years earlier, when I failed to meet their behavioral expectations.  The State School was a nasty place, a school in name only; a nasty warehouse for autistic and intellectually disabled people.  That reflection and the news story made me wonder . . . was the person who was killed autistic?  I have no idea, but the way her story was presented gave me pause for thought. When a young autistic person is hit by a car, parents furnish the headlines, which usually read something like this:  “Autistic teen killed by car in terrible accident.”  The danger of wandering is often cited.When researchers gather statistics on wandering deaths they look for headlines like that, and tally them up.  But what happens to the autistic people who get old, and have no parents to tell their story when they step in front of traffic?   People in the community shake their heads, and remember their eccentricity.  Some remember the institution where they used to live.  The headlines are noncommittal; “Pedestrian killed in late night crash.”The cause could be anything.  That story made me realize two things:The role of autism and developmental difference in deaths of adults with disabilities is almost certainly significantly underreported when older people don’t have parents or others to present that part of the story.  Children "die from wandering."  Older people are just one more casualty, "hit by a car."Parents who are concerned that their autistic child will walk in front of a car someday are right to be worried about what may happen when they are gone.  Many of us remain oblivious to cars and other dangers our whole lives, and for some, life is cut short as a result. Yet our freedom is precious, and not likely taken away or constrained, even when it leads us into danger.Wandering presents the autism community with a difficult moral dilemma.  Autistic advocates argue that the “wandering” some parents call out is really an effort to satisfy curiosity or escape a stressful situation.  While that is surely true some of the time, what if the person’s escape takes them into the path of an oncoming car?We’ve discussed this more than once at IACC, without seeing any good solutions.  Tracking devices don’t prevent people from falling in water or dying in roadways.  Locks present a whole host of problems as a type of restraint.  Supervision sounds like a good answer, but very expensive and frankly impractical on a 24/7 basis.At some point, most cognitively disabled people are either left unsupervised in the community, or they end up in a group home, jail or some other form of institutionalization.  Many die early from accident or neglect.  And of those deaths, the contribution of cognitive disability to the premature mortality (for whatever reason) surely often goes overlooked.In the case that caught my eye, the headline simply said, “Woman struck and killed by car.”Would you – as a reader – have felt different if the headline had sa[...]



More Questions About the Reliquary

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 15:09:00 +0000

I’ve been asked to discuss some of the questions I see swirling round the discovery of the reliquary in Jamestown.  I wrote about the remarkable find last week on this same blog.The later Anglican church at Jamestown (as reconstructed at the turn of the 20th century)It’s always hard to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  It’s particularly tough when four hundred years and vast cultural differences separate us.  Assumptions about how we think today, in a society informed by modern morality and a foundation of present-day science may be very far afield when set in the context of 1600 England or Virginia.Today, when a new Catholic church is built, the bishop will oversee the installation of the relics in the altar.  In most new churches the relics are installed in a niche made for that purpose and the installation is part of a ceremony.  Things were very different in the Virginia colony in 1609.There were no bishops in Virginia, nor were there any recognized Catholic clergy, though it’s possible Archer was a secret priest or deacon.  Nothing at all is known of the person who set the reliquary atop his casket.  All we can say for certain is that a traditional Catholic ceremony around the installation of relics would not have been possible in Virginia, in that day.Catholics may have been tolerated in the Virginia settlement, but a Catholic church would not have been allowed.  The only place of worship would have been the first Anglican church and its successors.  Given that situation, did Catholics think of that as “their church” too?If so, did one of them seize an opportunity to put the reliquary under the altar for that reason?  We don’t know.Imagine that Archer brought the reliquary and its contents to America intending to place them in a place of Catholic worship.  But before he could do that, he died.   We don’t know if he died suddenly or after a period of sickness.  That means we have no idea if he had any opportunity to express a deathbed wish, and if so, if the reliquary was involved.The reliquary was buried about 70 years after the Church of England broke with Rome.  While they had adopted some elements of the Protestant Reformation, there was still much similarity between Anglican and Roman rites.  Even today there is considerable similarity.  How might that have affected Catholics who attended services?  Today we would expect a bishop or a priest to keep custody of a church’s relics.  The situation was very different in 1609 Virginia.  The colonists had come from an England where Catholicism had been outlawed and the many Catholic relics had found their way to safekeeping underground in Catholic homes.  Consequently we could expect relics to be in the custody of leading Catholics in English communities, recognizing that “leading Catholics” had a different meaning in that day because almost all Catholics were underground due to persecution.If Archer’s parents were such people, it would not be any surprise that they may have entrusted him with relics with which to establish a Catholic outpost in Virginia.  The fact that there was no bishop in Virginia may not have mattered, from the spiritual perspective of the settlers.  Life itself was enough of a struggle that they were forced to be practical and do the best they could.While there is no evidence (as yet) that Archer was a secret priest we do know he was an educated man and he studied the law.  Today we would not be surprised to find a person of that description as a Catholic deacon, and that was likely true in 1600 as well.  Deacons and Vestrymen tended to be community leaders, and education is often a part of that. So, while we may never kno[...]



The Reliquary, and burials in the Jamestown church

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 22:33:00 +0000

The ReliquaryIt’s been several years since the discovery of a reliquary in a 1609 grave in the chancel of the first church in Jamestown Virginia.  The grave was that of Gabriel Archer, one of the founders of the Jamestown colony.  I’ve been surprised how little discussion this has stirred in the Anglican and Catholic communities, given the location in the oldest church in British North America.  The reliquary is the first clear evidence that saints, and the material culture of the Catholic Church, accompanied Protestant colonists to the New World.The Jamestown settlement was established at a time when Catholicism had been driven underground in England.  After Henry VIII broke with Rome, Catholics – Papists, as they were called – were presumed loyal to Spain, and therefore seen as potential traitors to the English king.  The faith was outlawed, and churches sacked and shuttered.  That was a very divisive thing for many Britons, as so many of them were Catholic.Some followed their King into the new Anglican faith, which was part of the Protestant Reformation sweeping Europe, while others preserved Catholic traditions underground.  Hidden faiths were dangerous, and many were executed in the spirit of religious fervor.  Henry’s successors veered back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism, which tore the country apart with religious civil war.Gabriel Archer was born into an English Catholic family in 1575.  Not much is known of his parents but parish records do show they were fined for being “recusants;” the name given to people who refused to attend and support the Anglican Church.By the turn of the seventeenth century Catholics were more than simple religious dissidents because they owed their allegiance to the Pope, and not the King.  It could be very dangerous to be openly Catholic in England or its colonies back then.  Catholic churches were demolished but most often their relics, icons, and valuables were preserved at great risk by the faithful, to resurface at some future date.That was environment within which Archer attended Cambridge University, and then studied law at Gray’s, one of the English Inns of Court.  It was probably there that he made the acquaintance of Bartholomew Gosnold.  The two of them traveled on expeditions to New England in 1602 and Virginia in 1607.Gosnold and Archer arrived at Chesapeake Bay in late April 1607 and chose the site for James Fort the following month. The settlement of Jamestown would grow from the fort, which was carved out of forest near the James river. Archer was wounded in a skirmish with Indians shortly after, but he recovered and became the colony’s first secretary.  He's believed to be the author of several early accounts of life in Jamestown and exploration inland.  Archer returned to England with Christopher Newport in 1608, and went back to Virginia the following spring. He arrived in good health, only to die later that winter.  Later settlers would refer to one's first year in the colony as the “seasoning time,” and those who survived it counted themselves lucky, or blessed.Disease was the biggest killer, with bad food and water a major contributor.  Accidents and injuries killed many more and finally there was the ever present danger of other humans.  Indians killed quite a few colonists, and colonists killed each other.  The winter of 1609 brought another killer - starvation.Visitors to Jamestown today get no sense of what the original settlers faced when they disembarked from ships that had carried them from England.  Colonists arrived exhausted, often staving and sick, after a sea voyage that frequently lasted a month and a half.&nb[...]



The Myth of "Good Guys With Guns"

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 16:31:00 +0000

It’s been a few years since I first heard the phrase, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I just accepted those words without question, for quite a long time.  Today I see them differently.Growing up on a farm in Georgia, I was around guns from the very beginning.  My grandfather’s first cousin was a sheriff, and my great-grandfather was the county agent where we lived.  Both men carried guns all their lives.  Guns were something to be respected, but not feared.  When I was six years old, my grandmother shot a copperhead that cornered my dog, and I almost stepped on.  She didn’t carry a gun, but she used them when needed.  In my own small way, I’d experienced good guys and gals with guns from a very early age.Anyone with a lawman in the family imagines the police as good guys, and sometimes they need guns to protect us.  I wish that wasn’t true, but I know it is.None of those things disturb me in the least.  The thing I don’t like is the idea that “good guys with guns” has been extended to include an amorphous gun carrying public, who could supposedly protect us from some of the recent mass killings that have been in the news these past year years.“If one of the teachers had a gun, he would have stopped Adam Lanza in Newtown.”“If one of the Charlestown churchgoers had a gun, Dylann Roof would have been stopped in his tracks.”“If the other driver had a gun, those people would not have been shot on the freeway.”Statements like those appear with disturbing regularity. In this essay I’m not going to argue for or against gun control or gun carry laws.  My concerns are more practical, and they show why this idea simply is not real.Most mass shootings are conducted with rifles or full-size large capacity handguns.  A bystander armed with a nothing but an easily concealed pocket pistol would have very little chance of stopping such a gunman.  It’s a nice idea, but not one that would work out most times, particularly for the person with the pocket pistol.It's sort of like the guy who walks up to a grizzly and shoots it with a pocket .22 to see what will happen.  It draws attention to the shooter, and annoys the bear, with unfortunate results all around.Handguns for personal protection are designed for self defense at very close range.  They are meant to stop an attacker who is right upon you, in the course of an assault, rape, or robbery.  Self-defense shootings generally happen at distances of less than ten feet, and even then, statistics show that many of the shots miss their target.One of the main attributes of a handgun for personal protection is that it be small enough to be concealed and carried every day.  That means a short barrel – typically two inches, and a stubby grip.  Those things make it pocket size, but also limit the range at which most shooters can hit a target.Most of the mass shootings that have featured in the news have unfolded over much greater distances than those pocket guns would be effective.  To have a chance of stopping a gunman fifty feet away, you need a powerful gun with a four or six inch barrel and considerable training to use it effectively under stress at that range.Guns of that size are way too big to conceal under most clothing.  Casual gun owners lack the training to use their guns at all in those situations. “Good guys with guns” breaks down in the face of handgun limitations, lack of combat shooting skills, and finally lack of training in shooting and responding under stress.For many years I shot heavy .45 automatics in combat shooting competi[...]



An Ethical Dilemma For Autism Organizations

Tue, 06 Jun 2017 19:28:00 +0000

This year, I have seen the continuation of some troubling trends from autism advocacy groups.  One major group booked me to speak at their conference (for which they will pay me) even as they assembled sessions with autistic panelists who are not getting paid.Another organization – involved in funding research – talked with me about their proposal to recruit an autistic person to pull together a group of autistic advocates to identify adult needs.  The organization’s staffer (who is not himself autistic) will be paid his regular salary to move the effort along, but the autistic leader of the effort was asked to volunteer her time “until the program gets funded next year.”I objected to both situations.  Autism advocacy groups are here to support and help autistic people.  When the group’s leadership chooses an autistic person to take the stage and share his or her ideas, I feel they should be paid for doing so.  We know that unemployment is a chronic issue for autistic adults, and it follows that money is tight for many.  Does it not make sense that our advocacy groups would therefore act to relieve that stress, not worsen it?It’s particularly disturbing to me when I see non-autistic staffers at these organizations collecting salaries while the autistic people they are supposed to benefit are left hanging.  They would not have jobs, if not for us.I’m not suggesting that every panelist at a conference should be paid thousands of dollars.  But all panelists contribute to the success of the event, and that should be recognized.  Some payment is in order.  In addition, panelists should be offered compensation for the costs of attendance.As for research organizations . . . when autistic people get involved in shaping research, they should be paid appropriately for their contribution.   If you are a researcher, and you are seeking guidance from autistic people, the ethical rule is simple:  Are you getting paid?  If the answer is yes, then they should be paid too.Working toward a degree is a form of getting payment, to be clear.  The only circumstance where you might ask for volunteer participation is if you are all volunteers for some greater cause.  For example, you might seek volunteers to spread awareness as part of a church group or mission, or you might encourage fellow volunteers for other nonprofit causes.  It's beyond the scope of this essay to explore how much pay is fair, but a guide would be the pay ranges of the other people involved in the project and the value of your contribution relative to theirs. You might also be willing to volunteer in hopes of getting work in the future, but that's a slippery slope to exploitation.  Only you can be the judge.  Autistic people have been exploited for too many years.  Be part of the solution, not someone who perpetrates the problem.  Thoughts anyone?John Elder RobisonJohn Elder Robison is an autistic adult and advocate for people with neurological differences.  He's the author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, Raising Cubby, and Switched On. He serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Dept of Health and Human Services and many other autism-related boards. He's co-founder of the TCS Auto Program (A school for teens with developmental challenges) and he’s the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and a visiting professor of practice at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.  The opinions expressed here are his own.&[...]



Division in the Autism Community - what next for us?

Wed, 31 May 2017 15:16:00 +0000

One of the greatest divisions in the autism community is between seekers of a cure, and opponents.  Someone new to the autism community could easily be forgiven for asking how this might be.  Autism is, after all, a disability.  Why would anyone be opposed to curing it?Autism is not a disease.  It’s a developmental difference that is part of us for life.  In that way autism might be compared to congenital blindness, deafness, or a missing limb.  Those are other disabilities people generally live with for the rest of their lives.  In the broader disability community there are significant differences of opinion when it comes to assistive technologies.  For example, some deaf people embrace cochlear implants while others reject the idea just as firmly.  If there is one area of broad agreement, it is that the people with the disabilities should have the right to choose assistance or not.  Nothing should be forced upon us. The past few years have seen widespread acceptance of the idea of self determination which is a very good thing.That brings us to the autism controversy.  Autism is – at its heart – a communication disorder.  Autistics may have a different view of autism but that is the centerpiece of the current definition.   Some autistic people may be strong communicators and gifted thinkers, and their ability to chart their own course is beyond doubt.  What about autistic people who are not able to communicate very successfully?  There are some people in our community whose cognitive disabilities preclude effective communication and prevent self-advocacy.Autistic people with such severe disability are generally identified in early childhood.  The response of parents has typically been to ask for help with their children.  When faced with an autistic child many parents have reacted with distress, calling for a cure for autism and eradication of what they see as a terrible disability.Public awareness of autism has increased sharply in the past 20 years.  We now have a generation of young adults who have grown to adulthood after being children those parents wanted so much to cure.  Some are grateful for their parents advocacy, but many are angry.  They reject what they see as harmful interventions forced on them by misguided parents, and they reject the concept that they needed to be cured.Those young adults have led the move to position autism as a civil rights issue.  They believe most of our presumed disability is actually a mismatch between how we are, and the expectations of modern western society.  They have done a great service by identifying instances of discrimination and marginalization. Alongside those advocates there is a group of autistic people who take a very different position.  They see autism as a disability, and they wish they could be rid of it.  Finally there are parents of autistic kids with very severe disability.  As those kids grow to adulthood the parents face hard choices – who will take care of my child when we are gone?  They debate housing and support issues and often find themselves in conflict with autistic advocates with sharply opposing views.It’s very hard for members of the three groups to find common ground.  People tend to see autism through the lens of personal experience.  An autistic college student who has trouble with organization and social skills is likely to view autism very differently from a parent whose child is non verbal, cognitively disabled, and self injurious. The autistic lawyer or engineer who can say "I am autistic and pr[...]



Mastering the Obvious in Autism Science

Sun, 14 May 2017 19:51:00 +0000

At this years IMFAR autism science conference I saw several presentations on seemingly obvious topics.  For example, one study (DaPaz, University of California at San Francisco) assessed the responses of 89 parents to their children’s autism.  The comments were grouped into three categories – despair/hopelessness; self-blame/searching; and acceptance/benefit finding.  The researchers drew conclusions about the relationship between the types of comments and the parent’s states of mind.  Not surprisingly the parents who reported mostly despair had poorer outcomes and acceptance was associated with lower stress.  When I mentioned that study the most common reaction was, “Isn’t that obvious? Why are we spending money on a study like that?”There were plenty of other similarly “obvious” studies.  For example, one showed that parents who are educated about their children’s autism do better. Another found that kids do better when parents are taught basic autism therapy skills.Here’s a really important point to consider when you ask why agencies fund studies like that:  When it comes to arguing what health insurance should cover, decisions are driven by evidence.  You may think a certain thing is obvious, but without clear evidence, you are unlikely to see any insurance company cover it.  Even when we think the evidence is clear, doubt may remain and that can necessitate more studies.  Occasionally, studies of the obvious reveal really surprising things, showing us that the obvious is sometimes badly misunderstood.For example we have all hear that employment statistics for autistic people are dismal.  “90% unemployed,” is a number that’s commonly bandied about.  Personally I always doubted that and in fact an Autistica UK study that I saw on Friday night showed the number was closer to 60%.  In that case far more people seem to be working that previously assumed.There are obvious implications for public health policy in number like that. There’s a third group of “obvious” studies that we need very much.  Those are the studies that further validate initial research results.  It’s great when a lab reports positive outcomes for a new intervention or therapy.  But one great result is not enough to put that new there app on the menu all across the country.  We need a plethora of studies – on disparate populations; done by different groups of researchers – to build a really solid base of evidence that something worked.  That’s what it takes to win insurance approval for anything new, and even then, it takes years.You can certainly decry this system as unfair and exclusionary.  You might feel the insurers are just trying to escape what you see as a moral obligation.  But of course they would answer that they have responsibilities to both their insured population and their share holders.  The fact is, without evidence, we are nowhere with even the best new therapy.Sometimes these “obvious” studies are conducted by young scientists who are just starting out.  I encourage that. Other times they are conducted by better established scientists under the sponsorship of someone with a stake in the therapy under test.  We have to be careful with work like that because conflicts of interest can destroy the credibility of even the best done research.The next time you see a piece of work you think is obvious, rather than criticize it as wasteful, as if this will be enough to expand the coverage of autism services to be closer to what we really need.  In far too much of the country, the[...]



Getting involved guiding autism research

Thu, 11 May 2017 23:39:00 +0000

In the early days of autism research non-autistic doctors and scientists observed autistic people like me, asked questions, and then formulated their best ideas about what our problems were, and what research might be beneficial and interesting.  Autistic people were patients and study subjects, but we had little say in the research designs.Over the past few decades autistic people have come into their own, and an autistic culture has emerged.  Autistic people began to assert themselves in research, taking stances on the ethics of some studies and the basic purpose of other work.  The Internet empowered many people, and some began offering their thoughts on research and autism science. I’ve written about my own autism science journey, and autistic people now ask how they can get involved.  I’d like to offer some suggestions.The first place for most of us is where we live.  Are you part of a local autism support group?  Do you know other autistic people?  If you live in an area where no such groups exist I suggest you get something started.  The first step in powerful advocacy is to have a community, and encourage it to grow.Check with local colleges and universities, and see who’s doing autism research where you may be able to contribute.  Many departments may be involved in research, and you often find the different departments don’t know what the others are doing.  You can find autism researchers in such diverse departments as Communication Science Disorders, Speech Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, the medical school, Education, Nursing and even the business school.Research in your area may be focused on very low-level biology, or more practical things like workplace safety.  Given the available research – which is dependent on faculty interests, abilities, and funding – where might you make a contribution?  My first suggestion is that you approach autism researchers, explain that you are an autistic person yourself, and ask how you may be of help.  If my experience is a guide most researchers will welcome your help.  In my own advocacy work I encourage our government funders to require autistic involvement in structuring new studies, and I encourage members of INSAR – the professional society for autism science – to do the same.I'd like to be clear about something here . . . Autistic people have been connecting with researchers for years . . . In the context of volunteering to be research subjects.  In the same way, autism parents have connected with researchers for years, to volunteer their children as subjects.   This essay is not about that.  In this essay I recognize that those researchers will benefit from guidance and advice from actual autistic people in structuring the studies they may later ask us to take part in as volunteers.  I'm encouraging you to be one of those guides or advisors, at least at first.  If you want to volunteer, fine, but let's make sure what we volunteer for is shaped to help us best.If you are lucky enough to live in a city where an autism conference is hosted you’ll have a great opportunity to meet researchers from all over.  For example, this years IMFAR conference is in San Francisco and there are a number of autistic people in attendance, making connections with researchers.  This is the world’s largest autism science gathering, and it happens once a year, but there are smaller autism science conferences at universities all over, all the time.Government agencies are also looking for autistic people who can help shape res[...]



The Role of Autism in Polynesian Navigation

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 04:06:00 +0000

The past 40 years has seen a remarkable renaissance of Polynesian cultural awareness, with rediscovery and celebration of ancient skills and practices. Polynesians are taking pride in their heritage - particularly the seafaring skills that made settlement of the Pacific islands possible.  The navigation techniques developed and practiced by these island people were distinctly different from those developed by Europeans.  They were originally characterized as primitive by western anthropologists, but we now realize they were in many ways more sophisticated than methods developed in the west.  Polynesian navigators are called wayfinders, and their craft is called wayfinding. Western researchers have studied their techniques over the past 50 years. Their efficacy is firmly established; what’s missing is a study of the intellectual requirements of wayfinding.  This is significant because European navigators rely on measurements with instruments and pen and paper calculation.  Thanks to tools and method, most people can learn to do it.  Wayfinding does not use tools or pen and paper; it is all “in the head,” and for that reason it is more challenging.  Wayfinders are consequently much less common.  This essay considers the cognitive issues and explores a possible relationship between those voyagers and autism.Autism is a neurological difference that was first recognized in people who showed profound disability but at the same time, flashes of intellectual exceptionality.  Autism has been recognized since the 1930s but it has undergone a renaissance of its own in terms of understanding in the past 50 years.  At first, autism was only diagnosed in people with very severe disability.  Then in the 1990s the diagnostic criteria were broadened.  The phrase “communication disability” that once meant “nonverbal person” now refers to anything from that to inability to understand facial expressions in an otherwise articulate person.  With that change, far more autistic people were recognized, especially kids.  At the same time, the perception of autism changed. Where it was seen as a crushing disability, autism is now viewed on a continuum.  There are extremely disabled autistic people, but the autism spectrum also encompasses some gifted individuals.  The mental gymnastics performed by wayfinders appear to match capabilities bright autistic people are known for, and excel at.  At the same time, the wayfinding job and its social context seems to be one where autistic disabilities would be minimized.  The closer a knowledgeable (with respect to autism) person looks, the better the fit appears to be.  Anthropologists who are accustomed to seeing autism through the lens of disability might initially doubt the connection because wayfinders have traditionally been important figures in island cultures. They are not socially isolated as the disability model might predict.  Yet that does not rule out their being autistic.  There are many autistic leaders in western society.  Profoundly disabled autistics make less than one-half percent of the human population.  The number of people who have some autistic traits without total disability is much larger.  The autism spectrum – the term for all autistic people – includes 1.5% to 2% of humanity.  Adding in people who have some autistic traits but not enough for formal diagnosis yields what researchers call the “broad autism phenotype,” which may total 5% of the population. This essay explores some [...]



Does the term autism have meaning in other cultures?

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 03:52:00 +0000

Two years ago I was invited to the island of Hawaii to speak about autism and neurodiversity on behalf of the Department of Education.  Before going there I read what I could find on autism and its culture in Hawaii.  There was not much going on, as far as autism culture.  But there was a great renaissance of native Hawaiian culture.  Autism has been part of humanity for quite a long time, so I realized the two must be intertwined, but how?  One place where I immediately suspected a connection was in the area of navigation.That set me exploring the possibility that some Polynesian navigators may be/have been autistic.  That has been a fascinating thing to study, and it raised another question that I'd like to discuss – does a western diagnostic label that we associate with disability have relevance when applied to a gifted individual performing a specialized task in the South Pacific?  That question struck me as I watched video of Mau Piailug, an indigenous navigator from the island of Satawal who died in 2010. Polynesian navigators were for many years the finest navigators in the world.  Using their eyes and their minds – no tools or maps – they successfully steered vessels over vast distances to every corner of the Pacific.  They did this over thousands of years, during a time that western navigators had absolutely no idea how to find a speck in the ocean like Hawaii or Tahiti.Polynesian navigation is often referred to as wayfinding to distinguish it from the instrument and chart based navigation practiced elsewhere in the world. As soon as I read about the various cognitive requirements of the job I thought it was something autistic people would be ideally suited to.  I wondered if there was any evidence of autism in wayfinders and indeed there were clues in various writings.  The thing that really cinched it for me, though, was watching videos of a master wayfinder from the island of Satawal.  When I watched the videos I saw many signs of the broad autism phenotype in Piailug’s speech, expressions, and behavior.  He did not look at the person he was speaking to, or the camera.  He looked down almost all the time.  He spoke in a near monotone with a pattern of prosody I’ve learned to associate with autism.  When he spoke, his eyes and upper face were generally devoid of animation and he seldom displayed large expressions.  He also had the flat affect that is common to autistic speakers. To a trained eye, those were all signs of autism.  Yet the films did not depict a disabled man.  They showed an exceptional man telling his story for an appreciative listener.   Watching Piailug speak, I thought to myself, what would I say to him, if I were there?  Would I focus on the magnitude of his achievements, safely navigating open boats across thousands of miles of trackless ocean? Or would say the tendency to look at the ground when speaking is common in autistic people, and he does that.  I could go on to enumerate fifty points of diagnosis, but in the end I could not help but think, so what?  It’s not his autistic behaviors that matter, it’s his life work.Mau Piailug was a respected leader in his pacific island community and the west.  He came to the attention of American media when he navigated a Hawaiian voyaging canoe 2,500 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti with nothing more than his eyes and his mind to guide him.  He didn’t use charts or a compass.  In fact, he did not even know how to use them.[...]



Photographing the Volcano

Sun, 05 Feb 2017 21:07:00 +0000

Earlier this week the New York Times and other media outlets ran a story about something remarkable happening on the island of Hawaii.  For the past month, lava has been flowing from the volcanic vent at Puʻu ʻŌʻō.  The flow was coming to the surface at the Kamokuna coast where it was building new land as it entered the sea. 61G lava flow entering ocean at Kamokuna (c) John Elder RobisonThat spectacular but ordinary process became extraordinary when a big chunk of newly created cliff face collapsed into the ocean. On New years Eve the cliff fall exposed a lava tube that led seven miles from Puʻu ʻŌʻō, and it began streaming red-hot liquid rock as if from a fire hose.  Video in the Times showed lava arcing downward sixty-some feet into the ocean below, where it exploded in spectacular fashion.The Times story made such an impression on me that I resolved to go there and see it for myself.  I packed a Nikon D5 camera with an 80-400 lens, and set off on the journey.  There are three ways to see Hawaiian lava as it flows into the ocean.  You can take a helicopter, which gives an aerial perspective and allows access to remote sites. You can hike to the lava, but this flow was emerging from a newly formed and unstable cliff, and could not be approached closely on foot.  The final option is to take a boat.There are several groups offering lava boat tours in Hawaii. Vessels range in size from skiffs that carry six passengers to 50-seaters with rows of seating like a tour bus.  If you are a serious photographer the only choice is a small boat for the unrestricted views.  The charter I took was operated by Kalapana Cultural Tours, a group I recommend based on their attitude, knowledge, and seamanship skills.  Tours run from pre-dawn to after dusk, weather permitting.  The launch site is about 14 miles from the lava flow and the trip out and back can be rough.  Luckily this trip wasn’t – it was as smooth as an ocean passage can be.  Our boat had a captain and crewman, and seats for six passengers.  It was 22 feet long and powered by two outboards.  Everyone climbed aboard while the boat was on its trailer and we launched fully loaded as there are no docks to tie up to at Isaac Hale Beach.My own boating experience led me to choose the 5AM departure as the seas are usually smoothest before dawn, and the contrast of the lava and dark would be striking.  After being dropped in the water we headed southwest along the dark coast.  Traveling a few hundred yards offshore the water was already 300-350 feet deep.  Thanks to that the swells were minimal, even as they reared up and broke on the rocks of the shore with considerable ferocity.  The glow and steam plume from the lava entry was visible several miles away, and everyone got ready as we approached.  We arrived in darkness and the view was simply stunning.  Lava streamed from the cliff face just as the news stories had shown.  It was impressive in the news and the actuality of it was even more incredible.The whole scene was lit by the flickering fiery strand of lava.  Sometimes it glowed like the filament of a clear lightbulb. At other moments it was shrouded in a glowing mist of steam.  There was a constant roar punctuated by the pops of steam and lava explosions.  The lava was some 2,000 degrees when it hit the water, which was over 100 feet deep even right next to shore.To the right of the lava flow a huge crack was visible in the cliff f[...]



About John

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 02:16:00 +0000


John Elder Robison is free range Aspergian male, having grown up in the 1960s before the diagnosis existed. Today, he has claimed his spot on the autism spectrum and he's also an adjunct professor in the department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts. John has served on the public review board for the National Institutes of Health, and he is currently involved in TMS autism research at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is also the author of Look Me in the Eye, my life with Asperger’s. John’s writing has been translated into 18 languages and is sold in 60+ countries. John’s next book, Be Different!, will be published in the spring of 2011.
In addition to his autism advocacy work, John is a lifelong car enthusiast, an avid hiker, a photographer, a music lover, and a world-class champion eater.

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Mexico or Bust - Neurodiverse High Schoolers Build Vintage Bentley Race Car

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 00:47:00 +0000

Here’s how it all beganIn the fall of 2013, New York ad executive Tom Webster came to our shop with a dream on four wheels . . . a run-down but running Bentley Continental R.  I just bought it, he told me.  Can we make it run right, and make it special, he asked?Tom's Bentley as it looked when we started - #MexicoOrBust  (c) John E RobisonTom found the idea of an autistic Bentley restorer cool for some reason, and when I told him about our new high school program, he thought that was even cooler.  To my surprise, he told me of his own ADHD, and how he dropped out of school, and his own circuitous path to success.  From the moment we met, we became friends and he became one of the strongest supporters of our TCS Auto Program.As we set about restoring his car Toms got to know more about our school, and he thought more and more about how he could help spread our message.  He told his friends at Bentley USA what we were doing, and they gave him a new car to bring up and show our kidsWe talks for hours about our hopes for the school, and where we'd like to go.  Dream bigger, was always his advice.Meanwhile, here are a few of the things we did to his car . . .We restored Tom’s Bentley over the next year, and all that time he pondered what he could do to draw attention to our school.  He really liked the idea of teaching young people real life skills in a real workplace, and he particularly liked the idea of autistics making schools for autistics and others who are neurodivergent.Tom Webster's Bentley when we were done  #MexicoOrBust  (c) John E RobisonTom came up with a crazy idea – to build a vintage Bentley with our students, and to race it somewhere special.  After a bit of searching we settled on the Carrera Panamericana, a grueling rally that runs 3,000 kilometers along the spine of Mexico.The idea that a ragtag pack of autistic and otherwise different high school students from Springfield, Massachusetts could pull this off must sound pretty crazy.  But we have help.  I’m a long time repairer and restorer of Bentley motorcars, and the company I founded – J E Robison Service – is sort of known for making these old cars go.  Our school's parent nonprofit - Northeast Center for Youth and Families - has been helping people in Western Massachusetts for 40 years.  Joining us to create the TCS Auto Program is just the latest in a line of innovations for them.Bentley Motors has come on board as a supporter, and they will help with all manner of things as only a carmaker can.  I'll be telling you more about other sponsors in days to come . . .And then there’s all of you . . .We will be hosting our first fundraiser on January 19 in at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan on Pier 76, behind the Javits Center.  We’re also setting up a link for people to donate online.  All the donations go to our school’s parent nonprofit, and are tax deductible contributions to a 501c3 nonprofit.  We’re gonna do stuff you never saw a school do before . . . New and Vintage Bentley motorcars at our TCS Auto Program   #MexicoOrBust  (c)John E RobisonA new Bentley Flying Spur Speed, courtesy Bentley USA #MexicoOrBust   (c) John E Robison John Elder Robison(c) 2016 John Elder RobisonJohn Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent Bentley restoration and repair in Sp[...]



Deep pressure vests - a soothing idea

Mon, 26 Dec 2016 22:10:00 +0000

Are you comforted by squeeze or steady pressure?Me, wearing a Snug Vest at home  Photo by Maripat Robison Readers of my book Look Me in the Eye will recall my chapter about sleeping in piles, where I talk about how it’s comforting to have the weight of another person or a pile of pillows on me when I rest.  My friend Temple Grandin has her squeeze machine, which accomplishes something similar in perhaps a more deliberate way.  I'm almost 60, and I still feel that way.  So does Temple, as far as I know.With that in mind, autism therapists sometimes use weighted blankets to soothe children, in yet another version of the same idea.Lately I’ve seen a few products come on the market that take this idea to the next level, and I thought one was worth mentioning – the SnugVest.  I first made its acquaintance at the 2016 National Pediatric Developmental Differences Forum in Chicago. The Snug Vest people had one of their vests on display and I tried it on.  What a cool thing!  The vest looks and fits like an inflatable life vest, or water ski jacket.  Anyone who has worn one of those will recognize the Snug Vest feeling.  Putting it on made me realize why I like the feel of the vests in my little boat. The Snug Vest is sized tighter than, say, a hiking vest, and it has expandable sides.  It’s meant to squeeze you a little bit as soon as you zip it up  It’s got fill valves just like a life vest and it comes with a little pump to blow it up.  When you do, it bulges a little and the pressure increases nicely.  You get use the pump to get whatever level of squeeze you want, and there is another valve to quickly let the air out (or you can just unzip it.)Even fully inflated, you don't look weird. Or at least no weirder than you looked before putting it on.  The inflated vest just makes you look a little bit more solid, or chunkier.  It's like, autistic style.  One thing I particularly like is that the vest squeezes me around the chest where it feels soothing and not around my stomach, which just feels like someone sat on me.  It’s a simple product idea that is implemented nicely, and works like you would hope for.It is absolutely soothing.A few years back I heard about another company that was developing a similar inflatable vest, and they were aiming for FDA approval so its cost could be covered by insurance.  I thought that was a fine idea, but the cost of getting FDA approval was huge – potentially millions of dollars – and that promised to make any approved vest a very expensive items indeed.The Snug Vest does not carry that burden, and it is reasonably priced - $365 as of this writing, in the USA.  They were offering 20% off when I saw them in Chicago, and I have to expect similar deals can be found in the future.   For less than $300 this is a no brainer.  Just one meltdown averted and it's worth the price.  If it averts two meltdowns remember you heard about it here, and send us $20.At that price, a Snug Vest is about the same cost as a high performance inflatable life vest and considerably more soothing, if you are an autistic person or just someone who’s comforted by steady pressure.  And its air chambers offer some level of flotation, so if you find yourself unexpectedly deposited in a lake or river, the vest will help keep you afloat.  But it won’t look like you are walking round wearing [...]



Autistic High School Students Race Vintage Bentley Across Mexico!

Fri, 23 Dec 2016 01:46:00 +0000

How about that for a headline?  With the help of our friends at Bentley Motors, we are about to make those words a reality . . .Many of you already know about my childhood struggles with school, and autism.  Today autism is one of the things that makes me a gifted expert on Bentley and other fine motorcars, but as a child my differences were quite disabling.  One of the worst things about being an autistic kid was being called retarded, stupid, and defective.  It took many years for me to outgrow that stigma and I have resolved to help young people escape it altogether tomorrow.One way we can do that is by teaching us in ways that work.  Our public education system totally failed me, just as it failed my son 10 years ago and it will fail more autistic kids tomorrow.  I’ve realized we need more practical focus; more life skills teaching and more hands-on learning.  And I’m not just talking - three years ago I partnered in developing a unique school program for kids with autism and other developmental challenges.  Our TCS Auto Program is aimed at career or college prep for young people like me.   It’s the only campus I know of that teaches public school students real life skills in an actual work environment, here at JE Robison Service and our Springfield Auto Complex.  Our commercial company has established a reputation as a restorer of Bentley motorcars, and it was only natural that we’d teach our students on the cars we love best.Today I am proud to announce that we are stepping things up a level.  One of our long time friends and Bentley clients – Tom Webster of New York – took an interest in our school and its mission.  What do you need most, he asked me?  We need awareness and public support, I replied.Why don’t we do something spectacular, he replied?  Let’s build a vintage Bentley and race it!  And let’s make a movie about what we are doing, and the kids will be the stars!  What a cool idea.That was the genesis of Mexico or Bust! In which we will build a vintage Bentley Continental to race the Carrera Panamericana up the spine of Mexico.  It’s one of the premier rallies of the world, and to my amazement, Bentley has never competed.  That’s about to change. Bentley has agreed to support us, and Tom has partnered with FlyHelo to make the movie.  Now comes the challenge.  We need your support to fund this effort.  Many of you have told me how Look Me in the Eye and my other books portray life with autism in a way you never read before.  This movie will portray autism in a way you never saw before.  It will be the race of a lifetime for us, and it can be the race of a lifetime for you too, if you join us.  Bentley is sponsoring our opening fundraiser at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan on January 19.  Please join us in person, and if you can’t we will soon have a website where you can support us online, or by visiting our school.Contributions to the school are tax deductible; we are a 501©3 nonprofit.Here’s the invitation from Tom and Bentley.  I hope to see a few of you in Manhattan on the 19th! Woof!(c) 2007-2011 John Elder Robison[...]



The Election, and the Morning After. What next?

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 14:34:00 +0000

What now?In the aftermath of this election there is some celebration but for others there is tremendous angst, fear, and unrest. The election map shows what a bubble those of us in the northeast and west coasts live in relative to the rest of the country. I saw that clearly last week, when I spoke in South Carolina at that state’s annual autism conference.  My travels took me from a land of Bernie and Clinton signs to one dominated by Trump/Pence.I had been asked to speak about autism and employment. But as I told the audience, we could not really address that issue until we addressed the idea of acceptance within our own population, and we built a community of mutual support. With those things done, we (the autism community) will have come a long way toward solving our problems ourselves. And that is how it should be.My journey that day carried me from one political extreme to another – liberal democratic Western Massachusetts to conservative republican South Carolina. People in those communities very likely held totally opposite political views, and if our dysfunctional government is any example, they might have said there was little common ground.Yet I was common ground, if an individual can be said to be such a thing. My words of community building and autism acceptance were welcomed at two Thursday events in Massachusetts. There was strong support for the ideas I offered. Then I flew to South Carolina for Friday’s session, where I got a standing ovation for expressing those same ideas.In my government service I come into contact with people who hold many views on the subject of autism, some in sharp conflict with my own. Rather than argue and fight nonproductively, I say to those people: Let us find the things we agree upon – like the critical need for supports as autistic teens enter adulthood – and let us fight for those things together, rather than fighting each other about areas where we disagree.Only by joining together will we find a path forward.Another point to consider is that we can only be master of our own actions. Our ability to regulate others is always more limited than we think. Anyone who imagines himself King of His Household has experienced that firsthand, as teenagers grow up and develop strange ideas of their own. At the same time, we must recognize that our words have influence, and we should be mindful of what we say, and what we want that influence to be. For myself, I can spread a message of acceptance and community building among autistic people. What others do when they hear that is up to them. Whether they embrace that message in other aspects of their lives, is up to them as well.The election was the focus of millions last night. Today there is a widespread sense of, what now? Whether you supported Trump, Clinton, or neither, the reality for most of us remains the same. For me, there are still cars to be fixed at Robison Service. There are still kids to be taught at Tri County. There are still ambulance calls throughout our city, and expectant moms are still coming here for our child safety seat program. So I am here at work to ensure those things happen seamlessly.I’ve written before about how I can’t go to movies because I am overwhelmed by the concentrated and exaggerated emotions. The televised election coverage last night was the same. I could not handle it and read a book. Today I awoke to the news of our new president.[...]