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Look me in the Eye John Elder Robinson Talks at Google

John Elder Robison visits Google's Boulder, CO office to discuss his book "Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's." This event took place on September 23, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series. Robison's thoughtful and thoroughly memorable account of living with Asperger's syndrome is assured of media attention (and sales) due in part to his brother Augusten Burroughs's brief but fascinating description of Robison in Running with Scissors. But Robison's story is much more fully detailed in this moving memoir, beginning with his painful childhood, his abusive alcoholic father and his mentally disturbed mother. Robison describes how from nursery school on he could not communicate effectively with others, something his brain is not wired to do, since kids with Asperger's don't recognize common social cues and body language or facial expressions. Failing in junior high, Robison was encouraged by some audiovisual teachers to fix their broken equipment, and he discovered a more comfortable world of machines and circuits, of muted colors, soft light, and mechanical perfection. This led to jobs (and many hilarious events) in worlds where strange behavior is seen as normal: developing intricate rocket-shooting guitars for the rock band Kiss and computerized toys for the Milton Bradley company. Finally, at age 40, while Robison was running a successful business repairing high-end cars, a therapist correctly diagnosed him as having Asperger's. In the end, Robison succeeds in his goal of helping those who are struggling to grow up or live with Asperger's to see how it is not a disease but a way of being that needs no cure except understanding and encouragement from others.


Google Employee 0:03

For those of you here who know me, you might know a little bit about my fascination with the rocker kiss. You might also know that I helped Tom Wyman here a little bit early on with Project spectrum and doing some of the SketchUp stuff with autistic kids. So when I knew that john elder Robison was going to be in town in Boulder, this next week, I kind of ran as fast as I could try to see if he could stop by boulder and talk briefly about his book. Look me in the eye in my life with Asperger's. The reason he's important to me, not only because of his valuable information with Asperger's, and so forth, but also he created the guitars race freely a kiss. So he's kind of a bit of an idol to me. And he worked in Pink Floyd sound system and various other engineering type capacities. And now he's touring around with his book, speaking to people and helping with the cost. So please help me in welcoming john elder Robison to Google.

John Elder Robinson 1:09

Well, thank you all for inviting me out and coming to see me this is like a remarkable thing. It's like a world of geeks here. Everyone's like, you know, shabbily dressed and scruffy looking at stuff, you know, this is really great. If there have been companies like this, when I worked in electronics, I might have really made it in legitimate companies. And you know, you know, realize, you know, all of you that are younger than me, they may How fortunate you are, because I grew up, you probably know, slightly autistic, I have this, this Asperger's syndrome. And I couldn't really engage other people as a child, I'm sure, knowing the kind of environment This is that my stories of saying the wrong things to kids on the playground and being you know, the only one who couldn't get a girlfriend in school, and you know, and even when I was bigger, even I was on the road, I am probably the only guy you will ever talk to, will tell you, he played every major concert venue in North America with the biggest rock'n'roll tours on the planet, and never went home with any group. And that was it, for lack of interest, it was for a total inability. And so and I know that so many people, you know, in technology are familiar with how it feels to grow up as a misfit. You know, when I struggled with other kids, as a small child, my parents knew that there was something wrong, and there was something different, but nobody knew what it was because they didn't really have a diagnosis of Asperger's in use in those years. And back in the 1960s, autism was really only diagnosed if you were totally disabled. And it was like, you know, it was like a really bad thing, because you were sent to a state school and I was threatened with that kind of thing, from time to time, it was a place you never wanted to get sent. Luckily, they don't have those things, most of you growing up much anymore. When I got bigger, I had this sort of instinctive resistance to authority that I can see in the clothing of all of you. except that instead of embracing you, like Google does, they try to kind of crap away from me and threaten me with the truant officer and straight apps and all the other things like threaten me with And finally, I gave up and I dropped out of school, and I decided to join a band. Luckily, I had acquired an interest in electronics. And because I grew up in a college town, I, my parents, both professors, the University of Massachusetts, I was able to go and hang out in the engineering labs, where the older geeks in the labs adopted me as a pet. And that was a really, really good break for me. Because even though they couldn't teach me anything at Amherst high school, and I got straight F's, I wanted to learn, you know, I wanted to know about electronics and science and let loose in the labs. I actually acquired a graduate level education and the kinds of electronics that interested me, probably by the time I was 15, or 16 years old. And at that time, things went well. I totally got rain with my parents, you know, my mother kind of sank into mental illness and my father's a violent alcoholic. Like even though he was a department at the University, it was kind of a different story at home. So I left home and I joined a local band. Now at the time, that was one of the few places really, that someone who was a misfit could find a home.

Unknown Speaker 5:21

You know, everyone music business is kind of like a misfit like that. And the great thing about music is, they didn't judge you by your credentials. You know, what employers if you didn't have a degree from right school, and you couldn't even get in the door. But in music, all that mattered was the music that you could create. For me, it was the devices I could create, I had an ability to see the flow of the signals inside these devices I made, which at first were amplifiers and then they became filters and signal processors, and they became progressively more exotic things. And I worked for bigger and bigger bands until I found myself working for Pink Floyd sound company. And I made many pieces of sound equipment that surely most all of you who have listened to music from the 70s, you know, you've heard my stuff. But the thing about it is you're like, totally in the background. And I know that you guys working on things like putting in buildings and Google Earth, you know, you like to think well, that's my building, and all the millions of people that use it, they never have any idea who you are. And it was sort of like that with me. Everybody knew who the musicians were, they knew the names of the band. They knew what kind of guitars they play, they knew where the records were recorded. Nobody knew who made the amplifiers. Nobody had any idea. But then one day, we were building a monitor system for kids. And they came into the studio and I got talking to as freely when he was like digging at the front of a Les Paul guitar with a chisel. And even for a freak world like that. That was like beyond the pale and I I went over to him to see what he was doing. And he said he wanted to make this guitar smoke. So I said, Well, we could do that. We can hollow it out with a box in the air, we can line it with smoke bombs in it. And it turns with wrote he says Tex had Gibson send this guy, some guitars. And when I was off, and and you know, that was the first time in my life, that I achieved personal recognition for something I had done. Because I had seen my sound equipment, play all these huge arenas and stuff. But nobody ever knew it was me. Nobody knew who I was. When Ace took that smoking guitar out. And some of you that are kiss fans, you remember, we played it on 2000 man in the early tours, we come out and he play it. And he'd flip the switch in the pickup with snap open and smoke would start pouring out. The audience would just roar. And it was the proudest moment of my life. Because I realized, you know, they were roaring for this thing I had created. But it was kind of a hard life. You know, you were working 18 hours a day and there's all this you know, all this coke and stuff and there's all you know. And the thing is at the time, everybody Faraj is cool, you know, I could do all that stuff you wanted. Of course now you know I've gone to some get togethers in the band 15 years later, and I've seen these people's lives are just totally destroyed and their, their dad or their, you know, they're sick with AIDS, and they're just totally in the gutter or they're in prison. But that was all in the future. We didn't we didn't know that. The fact is, what I did know, is I would do that stuff. And I felt like I was smarter and clever and cuter and all. But it never really made any difference. Girls didn't ever seem to think I was cuter even if I thought I was cuter. And I didn't seem to do anything any better than you know, then when I wasn't doing it, and I sort of started looking at people that were doing that stuff. And I realized, you know, they were drunk or stoned pools when you walk outside and I had such trouble getting along with people anyway, that kind of put me off doing so I wasn't really into drugs. And, and frankly, it was kind of lonely. You know, I was I was out on the road I had by that time I had a girlfriend back at home. And I knew some of the people on the crew, but we play these halls and beat you know, 50,000 people, it's just this like amorphous mass out there, you know? And I had no idea how to connect to those people. I couldn't, I could never do it. So I decided to seek a regular job. And at the time, the closest thing they had to a Google environment was toy companies. So I went to work at Milton Bradley. Designing electronic games they wanted to design toys with speech sense of speech. sight, and sound defense, of course, I was ideally qualified to do that kind of stuff. And I did, okay, doing creative work. But

Unknown Speaker 10:13

you know, the pool of creative talent and companies like that was small. And if you did well at it, you got promoted. And you move one level above being the engineer walking in off the street, and you were in management. And it wasn't the kind of management that you guys deal with here. It was like management with a baseball bat behind the desk, you know, these guys, you know, he learned to be tough running a factory. And now they got some software engineers, I got to kick them into line too, you know, and I didn't quite, I didn't quite have the people skills to do that. I couldn't, I couldn't make a transition from being creative, to doing performance reviews and motivating employees and doing marketing presentations. And even though I went through a couple of different jobs and a few different companies, and I kind of rose to the ranks, I could see that I was destined for failure that I had always had this interest in automobiles. So I decided that I was going to quit my last job in electronics. And I was going to start a business fixing Mercedes and Rolls Royce and Land Rover Jaguar Cars in my driveway. And I didn't have much of a place to do it, you know, I had, I had a garage, it's not the size of four of these conference tables here. A little tiny house was worth less than the cars customers were bringing me. And I did it in this old industrial city, Springfield, Massachusetts, with no native population and those kinds of cars. But it was kind of a field of dreams story, you know, an advertised, and people would bring me these cars out, and I guess through force of will, people could see that even if I was a weirdo, I was a weirdo that loved machinery. And, and it turned out to be a great choice for a geek like me, because I may not have had bedside manner and I might not have been polite and smiley and friendly and all of that. But I could make the cars do things nobody else could. And the business got bigger and bigger and bigger. And today, people ship us cars from all over the country. We have Land Rovers and our service department from out here from Moab. You know, we get cars from from all over. It's the most amazing thing. And I kind of did all that. No one that I was a misfit. The thing is, though no one is a misfit is not really quite the right word for it. Because I imagine a lot of you think of yourselves as misfits. But you are like proud members of a hugely successful company. And you can be proud to be misfits. When I was a misfit at 16, the stuff I heard was really corrosive and ugly. You know, people said, Oh, you can end up in jail, you can be nothing, you're going to be pumping gas. And the way people saw folks like me back then, was very different than the way people see many of you in the environments that you're in today is so fortunate, you know that the world has changed in Africa. I always had this kind of feeling of inferiority and this feeling that I was a fake, I always felt I couldn't go take another real job because people will find out. I'm just a high school dropout and just fired. Somebody could offer me a quarter of a million dollars here to come work in a company like this. And I'd have been scared to take the job. Because I figured what would happen I moved 2500 miles away, I'd be in Colorado, and they fired me a week later, and I just be broke and destitute 2000 miles from home, and I was never brave enough to take a chance. So anyway, I operated this car business, and I made it successful and it got bigger and bigger. One day, I became friends with this, this therapist and a Land Rover. And we started going out for lunch, he come down to visit me. One day, he came in with this little purple book called Asperger syndrome. And he holds it up to me. He says, you know, therapists learn not to diagnose their friends, or pretty soon they won't have any friends. But I've got this book that describes you to a tee. And I look at it and I say What's this? And he says it's a form of autism. And I said, What are you nuts? And he says, No, really, he says, It's not what you think, you know, look at the book and say, and I opened up the book.

Unknown Speaker 14:54

And you know, it was like, it was just like seeing a roadmap of your life. It's Like on one side, you can list all these things that people with Asperger's don't do that the rest of society expects. We don't look at people, we don't have manners, we don't say the expected things. And then there's all these things that we do do that society doesn't expect that we have these bizarre interests, and you know, rocks and astronomy and in insects and trains and stuff like that, and get it with like, that was me, you know, he was right, I was all of these things. And I was kind of shaken and stunned. But I took the book home, and I read it. And I resolved that I was going to change my life, I resolved that I was going to take this knowledge. And I was going to teach myself to do the things to make me look normal. And it took me a number of years, you know, I did it. I mean, I'm here now. And, you know, it was the most amazing thing, I went from having almost no friends, to having friends, people begin inviting me to lunch and inviting me to dinner and, and going and doing things with me. I got a call from my bank. And I thought they were telling me they were going to like foreclose on me or something. And they wanted me to join the board. It was just, you know, like, it was like the pinnacle of what you're gonna say. And that is what the knowledge of Asperger's brought to me. I decided, after my brother, he wrote about us all in this running with scissors book that I'm sure many of you have read. And I decided to write a story of life with Asperger's after my father died. And I wrote a sort of a short story about that. I talked to my brother about how to do that, because I was still plagued with these feelings of being a fraud. You know, I thought, well, I want to tell people, what it's like to grow up with this Asperger's. And in particular, I want to show young people that even if you feel defective as a kid, and if you feel really handicapped as a kid, you can grow up and still be pretty successful adult. But I wasn't sure how to do that, because I'm not a psychologist, or any kind of medical doctor really anything at all. And my brother said, well, it's easy. Just tell your stupid stories the way you used to tell them to me when you come home from being on the road with rock and roll bands, and everyone will see what's wrong with you. You know, at first, I thought he was just being a wise guy. But I realized that that's about the truth of it. You know, when I wrote look me in the eye, people read these stories that I tell you, in perfect seriousness, like, you know, I opened up the door in my hotel room in Florida, and there was watermarks on the staff. So I went back in the room and I got my gun, I open the door again, I shot six times. And you know, that, to me, was a practical solution. It's very clear that if I was going to exit that room that morning, the snake had to be out of the way. And it was also clear to me that the snake was not only a hazard domain, but a hazard to anyone else walking along the patio. So I shot Well, the hotel management didn't see things quite the same as I. But you know, the police aren't the same way as me. The sheriff came over. And the sheriff looked at me and he looked at the gun, he looked at the pieces of snake in the grass. He said by God their son, I couldn't kill him with that thing. I just dropped that gun on the back of the ground and I back away slow and wish that snake Good day. And he said, Well, friends You're lucky this year boy was prepared otherwise you'd had a real mess if that snake Want to bet some kid and he left

Unknown Speaker 19:09

the hotel.

Unknown Speaker 19:11

So anyway, these kinds of stories, they, I guess if illustrated as Berg invented. And when the book went on sale, I thought that all of the people who would identify with the book would be real sort of serious freaks like me. And I felt that many of my readership like me, might best be left in cages, you know. But when people began to come to these book appearances, I began getting like totally normal walking upscale, respectable people telling me that they recognized my stories and they said, You know, I was like that when I was young and, and boy, I can you know, I can really relate to your story of how you felt on the playground, or in this place, place, and I like looked at these people, and I think really someone like you. And, and I'd look at these guys, and you know, and these are guys that like, winter, you know what to Yale and Harvard were captains of football team, you know, and I, I'd see these girls that surely they must have been you know, they must have been something prestigious in school and not like me. And yet they identified with the stories. And it was the most amazing thing, I realized that by telling these stories, I really have sort of illustrated the whole human condition. And I found that people began using my book to teach not only what it's like to be autistic, but also just tolerance and diversity and understanding to kids as early as fourth grade. When I saw that happening, I started feeling a little bad because I wrote the book with the kind of language we used, you know, when I was growing up, and I was, I was out, you know, outlaw biker, musicians and stuff. And they weren't like the most civil and polite bunch. And the language reflected that my book didn't have, like graphic sex or gratuitous violence, because I wasn't really a graphic sex or gratuitous violence kind of guy. But, but it did have those words. So I resolved for the paperback edition, that I was going to make some changes in the book. And I actually rewrote all the dialogue passages to take out the profanity. So that if you had a 12 year old kid, you could show him this book. And you could have him read these passages and not worry about the language. I, I had a 12 year old kid at one time myself, he grew bigger, and now he's not 12 anymore. But if he still worked, well, I would not have wanted reading that stuff. So I also wrote a new chapter about things I've learned in the year and a half since the book was written. And I wrote a new reading resources guide, we have a study guide at the back for for teaching about it. And it's now sort of spreading around the world with this message of what it's like to be autistic. And the thing is really great about coming here is that, just as I was shocked to hear that I had this thing called Asperger's and Asperger's was a kind of autism. I now know that Asperger's in me is just one point on a continuum. And it blends seamlessly from being totally disabled, to seemingly normal. And I know that all of you involved in technology, if you're not Asperger, and you're like one step away, you're what I call proto glassberg. Ian's and I know that many of you protoplast Berg, Ian's see those, those stories. And, and that is why it's such a great honor to come to a place like this. And also, I am particularly thrilled, just because this truly is, like I said at the beginning, this is the kind of place where I really could have made it. You know, when I was younger, if I could have come to a company like this, I wouldn't have had to go out and be on the street. And I could have worked in a place like this. And if I did, well, I could have been promoted. And I could have still done creative stuff. Because I know you guys have people my age that do creative stuff. And that just didn't exist. When I started out it is such a great thing. So with that, I guess I should ask you who has questions? Who's to be the first? Oscar question. Okay.

Unknown Speaker 24:04

So thank you very much for coming today. I very much appreciated hearing your story and look forward to you know, I haven't had a chance to look at the book yet. So I'm looking forward to that. Um, as you described, some of what you experienced growing up and the kind of circuitous path and all this stuff. You know, it. This may or may not be difficult to do. But I would imagine that each of us has challenges that we face in life, I certainly have had many. And so I was wondering if you would summarize them to in the context of, you know, some people just don't want to engage the difficult things and just avoid but people who become empowered perhaps as you have, generally find a time in their life when they engage those things that that are hard to deal with. So if there was a basic message or something around, what motivated you to kind of dig into things that have brought very positive change in your life? How would you summarize that? What

Unknown Speaker 25:14

would be the basis? First of all, I think all humans want to be loved and want to be part of the pack. Some of us, like me, don't have very functional emotional intelligence when we are young. So the problems for me started with that. I could not tell what nonverbal messages you were sending to me, if you were a grown up talking to me, you like for example, I could drop this glass on the floor and break it. And you'd say, That's great work, what you've done. And I would listen to you. And I would not understand that you were sarcastic. And I would not understand that you were mad, I would understand that. You said, that's great. Look what you've done. And, and it would puzzled me, because I wouldn't have thought breaking the glass would be great. But maybe it Look what I know. And I would say, Okay, I could break another one. And you get furious, and you'd yell at me. If you were a kid, and you came up to me, and you said, Look at my new picture book. I might say, I like astronomy. That was not the response you wanted. And you would try again. And you'd say, look, it's all about horses. And I would repeat, I like astronomy, and you would wander off. And as funny as those things are today. Every one of those failed encounters for me, carried with it a sense of real crushing sadness. Because each time I wanted to say the right thing, I wanted you to like me for whatever I had done, and I wanted you to share your picture book with me. But I didn't know how to respond to you in a way that would work. And that's because my emotional intelligence didn't really function. I can respond to your spoken words. But that was it. So I knew that I had a problem. I didn't know what the problem was, I didn't know there was this nonverbal communication. It is just as if there is a whole nother spectrum of colors in the world and I see them and not if you guys do, how would you ever know that I am working from a different deck of cards that you wouldn't. So when I learned about autism and Asperger's, it really opened my eyes to what I had been missing all my life. And I still wanted to be, you know, popular. I mean, you know, all of all of us who were kind of geeks were functional, or more or less functional. We were in school, I was maybe less functional in you, because probably the majority of you actually graduated from high school and attended a college. But still, I imagine you two had feelings of not fitting in. And you know, you might have looked at, you know, you know, those guys that were the football quarterbacks and the girls that were cheerleaders, and everyone loves them, and they were popular, and they had friends and, and at some level, you'd say either just, you know, just this and that. But at another level, you kind of wish I wish I could have had friends like that. And at 40 years old, I still wanted friends. And that's what drove me to try and change myself. When I learned about Asperger's. I think that's a basic human desire. I think we all want that. Yes. So do you feel like you've

Unknown Speaker 29:02

developed emotional intelligence? And how did you go about doing that? I would say that I developed. I developed what's called what I would call like a logical intelligence.

Unknown Speaker 29:19

In my book, I talk about this there are a few chapters on that. Like, I couldn't sense what your body language was saying to me instinctively. And if you wonder about like, who can sense things instinctively, you look at a mother with some small children. Mothers are kind of the peak in humanity of emotional intelligence. Nonverbal communication is never like that. But you know, what I did was I took my logical mind, which was really strong. And I said, Okay, there's this universe that I didn't know was there and I'm I'm going to try and figure it out. And maybe I can't instinctively Tell what your body language is saying. But I can memorize, you know what people look like you think and I'd say, Well, I give 75 80% chance this guy's mad. And I 75% odds, and she likes me. And that's a hell of a lot better than just guessing. And, you know, in advance that's as good at emotional intelligence, you know, really is it takes to get very far in life for someone who doesn't have it. And that's something that, I guess I would submit to you that any reasonably smart person can do to make their life better. I talked at some length about that in the last half of my book. And, and I think the other thing that, that I see is, you know, I've kind of learned what society expensive people in general. So I've learned like, what things might be weird, what things might not be weird, even if things are weird, some things are okay. And some things aren't. Okay. So I've I've learned that. And I guess, I wouldn't go so far as to say I taught myself emotional intelligence, but I, I taught myself something that works in its place. And, and before somebody even asks, sometimes people will say, so that's like a fake emotional intelligence. And I'd like to assure you that it is not a fake at all, it may be that I can't instinctively see things that that mother can see. But the mother and I have exactly the same goal. We both want to read the nonverbal Communications of the other person in order to have a mutually beneficial and successful exchange. So however, we achieve the result, it's real, just because I can't do it instinctively does not make an effect. So, yes. And related to that,

Unknown Speaker 31:58

do you think it could be that that what you have is actually identical to true? emotional intelligence is this that you've learned it in a different time? And so it seems like a different thing? But could it be that you know, as children, we're going to the same kind of logical analysis and coming up with these rules that tell us what people are thinking.

Unknown Speaker 32:20

That is a wonderful engineer's suggestion is exactly what I would have suggested myself two years ago. I've been really fortunate since writing this book, to have some really remarkable people read it and contact me. Last, when I was contacted by some of the neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School, when they asked me if I would participate in a study with them, that actually reached into the workings of emotional intelligence, and they wanted to use high powered electromagnetic energy, to induce tiny electrical currents in the brain and change the balance of how we think in certain areas. After working with these folks, I can tell you from personal knowledge, that No, they are not the same. They're different. But they're related. When you as a kid, if you're slightly autistic, like me, and your emotional intelligence doesn't work real well. But you're pretty smart. You know, you have a problem, you know that those people are angry, we know that those kids don't want to be your friend, and you want that. And you see other kids with friends. So you know, it's not natural. You know, you have a problem, but you don't know exactly what it is. So what do you do? You think about that all day long? What did I do wrong? And what could I do differently? And what happened and you watch the other kids? What do they do to each with each other that I don't do. So in a sense, you become like a little musical prodigy that play scales on the piano every day for three hours a day, except you're not playing scales on the piano, you are watching other people figuring out what went wrong for you. And I believe that it was that thought process that developed the unusually powerful logical brain that took me so far in the world of music and electronics. So the lack of that working emotional intelligence gave me the logical intelligence that ultimately helped me solve my problems in life. But they are two totally different things. I now say that so yes, a couple of us I had

Unknown Speaker 34:51

discussed before about you know, when you talk about the high school quarterback, well, if that person had tremendous talent to one area, people wouldn't be pushing that person towards developing other sides of their personality they would, they would work with that person to become, you know, a great quarterback, or so many times with Asperger's people or autistic kids, we see so much emphasis on where they're lacking, rather than emphasis on what do they bring to the table? What are their? What are their skills and discovering that? And I was just wondering, your comments on that are your thoughts,

Unknown Speaker 35:26

that is a really important point, I'm glad that you have. When you work with kids with Asperger's and autism, you really see just the disability components of the condition. When you're dealing with a kid in a school system, or when you're in school systems. The focus is on the stuff you can't do. You know, you don't have friends, you say the wrong things. But you don't do that. So you don't do that it is all just a litany of failure. And when you're a kid in that environment, what can you really say except life totally sucks, everything's bad. One thing that you illustrate here, you know, you're interested in computers and software, and you're not here, because they weren't hiring and CVS, you're here because you had special interests. You know, these kids with Asperger's, that have these various disability components also have special interests. And those interests may be railway locomotives, or maybe software programming, or it may be any number of things. When they're 12, and 13 years old, the other kids laugh at them for that. It is really actually a serious problem in our country. Those of you with kids yourself, you may know that if you've got a kid now that loves math, we ridicule our children in America for loving math. But you know, it is those talents that will take you to the top of the world. You know, those when you're a boy, you're 12 years old, and the girls in class make fun of you because you love math, and nobody wants to be your friend. It's those same girls that think I'd love to marry a guy like that that's brilliant at math and owns a software company, you know, the tables are totally German when you're 30 years old. So one thing that's really important is for all of us, but especially the Asperger's and croteau, Asperger's among us to act as role models for these young kids that are struggling, because to a large extent, as we teach ourselves how to behave, the disability aspects of our condition fade away, and you don't really see me today is disabled. And yet, if you saw me when I was 12, you most assuredly water. So you can see how it transforms as you get older. That's a real important thing for young people to see. Because they are in the part of it. That's like almost all bad. So, yes,

Unknown Speaker 38:05

along those lines, I was just wondering if you could comment on going through obviously, the work environment has changed quite a bit, the company like Google and what's going on. So it's very different than when you were going through it. But as a business owner yourself, how do you apply that to your own hiring practices? I mean, is it when when you're going through and interviewing somebody who's going to work for you? Do you recognize these skills? And are you able to translate that and this person will be very successful, even if they're not going to be management, you know, a manager at my company.

Unknown Speaker 38:39

I wish I could tell you that I have a large enough company that I can employ those kinds of ideas. But in a small automobile business with only 10 people. You kind of take people in after kind of getting to know them. The people in our company have mostly been there a long time and we we meet them through personal referrals. We meet somebody and we think well, he might you know, he might fit in and we don't really have an opening now and but at some point, we might take that person into the company. I'm afraid my company's too small to really employ that to a significant extent because we don't have management and stuff like that. But I wish we did. Anyway, do we have more questions? Or shall I signed books or what should we do here? Yes, you got one. So

Unknown Speaker 39:36

as you say in your like emotional analysis and people that you spend more time in conscious thought, whereas other people might just do it naturally. And you find that exhausting?

Unknown Speaker 39:48

It is. It can be tiring to have to constantly think about something that other people do instinctively. Yeah. It can be tiring. One thing that has really helped with me is, the more knowledge I have gained, the less anxious and sad I am. Many people that you see with Asperger the initial conditions when they're younger, they almost have like a hunted animal rock, you know, you see like looking around, there's a movie called Billy the Kid about a fella with Asperger's is 15 years old at a high school in Maine, you watch scenes of him in the cafeteria, and you'll see what I mean. When I was young, I was always on guard, because I never really knew what was going on in any moment. Somebody could like attack me and they wouldn't like physically attack me, but, but they could make fun of me or they can I can think of say something and can pounce on me for something I didn't do. So my whole life went on in a state of weariness. And not only that, so many of these things did happen to justify the weariness. But I also lived in a state of sadness, because I wanted success in my engagements with other people, but I had so many failures, and the failures make you sad. And when that goes on long enough, it can lead to withdrawal, sadness can turn into depression. And you know, you can end up with permanent, serious psychological problems. Luckily, I went the other way, by gaining knowledge, the more knowledge you have, of what other people are thinking and feeling towards you and what they're doing between themselves. The last reason you have to be anxious, so you don't burn your energy up being wary. You don't lose energy, being sad, when you change your life so that your encounters with people or successes and failures. So it's it's again, something that I believe we can make better within ourselves. The great wonder of this is that so much of what I'm talking about here is stuff that you can change inside you. It doesn't need medication treatment change comes from within. So yes.

Unknown Speaker 42:26

I wondered if you could speak to the very varying approaches. At one extreme autism being considered a disease versus maybe At the other extreme, it's indicative of neurological evolution? Well, you asked what about autism is a disease at one extreme and evolution at the other, I don't think you would find any reputable scientist who would characterize autism as a disease. I think there is general agreement. Autism is a neurological difference. Now, recognizing that it's a neurological difference. It is a difference that bestows a mixture of gift and disability components on everyone. People start out with some balance, some kids start out more disabled, some kids start out more gifted. I believe that my own life shows powerful evidence that you can shift that balance in your favor in the gifted direction. I think that that's abundantly clear when you look at the historical record of me and I think that Temple Grandin is another wonderful example of that look at video of Temple 20 years ago and look at her today. So obviously, we can make ourselves better. I think that there is a group of people who say, okay, whether it's a difference or a disease or whatever, I want to cure my child. While on the one hand, I sympathize with the desire of any mother to make her child's life better. And if you're a mother who has a kid who is significantly disabled by autism, of course, you want to make your kid's life better. There's another side to that though. And that is that I have talked to many, many people on the spectrum in these speaking engagements and talks and stuff that I've done. And I have yet to meet a person with any degree of autism who says to Me, I wish they could cure me. You know, people say to me, I've learned to accept how I am they say I'm happy to how I am. People like me will say I can show you how Autism has given me significant competitive advantages in life. I don't really meet people who say I'm sick, and I want to cure. Now, that doesn't mean that we love the disability components of autism. Because people do say to me, you know, if you could show me how to figure out that emotional intelligence, I would love to do it. But see that as somebody who says, Okay, here's a particular component of autism, that makes life hard for me, I would like to overcome. And that's fundamentally different from saying the whole thing's a disease. And I like to read. And, and I think that if you approach it like that, you'll find that you're more achieve success, you know, you pinpoint components that you struggle with, and you work to fix them. And at the same time, you find what your kid is good at. And I would suggest to you, if you're a mother, that that's one of your biggest challenges. Because if you look at the tremendously successful people in the United States with Asperger's, and what those people do, and then you look at your kid, your kid is six or seven or eight years old, how on earth will you know that your kid had these scientific talents that manifest themselves in these 40 year old dashboard games that went Nobel Prizes or whatever, it's very, very difficult for you to know what your kid's gifts are. And as much as you think, Well, you know, my child or whatever, it can be a lot of work. And I think that's a very productive place for mothers to devote their energy to find the gifts in these children. So that's, I would suggest we have Yes, well, the questions keep coming. Yes.

Unknown Speaker 46:48

What advice would you provide now in the benefit of hindsight to a 10 year old with Asperger's?

Unknown Speaker 46:54

The first thing I would say to a 10 year old with Asperger's is that life gets steadily better, once you go into college, and everything is going to turn around. All those people that make fun of you at 10 are going to look up to you and admire you and want to be your friends, when you're 30. All those things that people say are stupid, when you are 10, they're going to say, I wish I knew that, because all of a sudden the kid with a stupid interest in trains, has become the Union Pacific railways, you know, Superintendent of engineering, you know, and and all of a sudden, all of that's going to turn around. So I would, I would, I guess I would do more than saying I would try and show that 10 year old examples of people who have Asperger and differences like him that have achieved things like that, and say, Look, this guy, everybody said this was stupid. And now look at what he does today. And, and I would try also and expose that 10 year old, two smart, older people. I briefly touched upon that in my talk, how they adopted me as a path in the engineering labs. And I, I told you how I consistently failed to engage other children my own age. One reason for that is that kids don't really have the mental agility to keep up with the weird stuff that a kid with Asperger's might say or do because they don't see a new the expected things. But grownups can keep up. So if you can put older people in your child's life, who are mentally agile, and they can show a book and say here, look at this book on, you know, on horses, when he says, I like elephants, the grown up can say really do you know about African and Indian elephants, and he can lead him down a path that successful instead of a failure. So that's a really big thing. And in that same vein, I would suggest to you that your kid may gravitate towards older people for that reason. When I was 15, when I was 20, all my friends were five or six or seven years older than me, for that reason. And the older I got, the less I tended to have older friends because we kind of you know, even out once we get to be 30 4050 years old. But that was big thing at a young age. So those would be my two first suggestions. Yes.

Unknown Speaker 49:33

When you were like younger, like 1020 Did you ever find that you had like a disconnect with what people consider normal kids? Did you ever find that you would meet somebody else that had Asperger's that maybe you guys could communicate on a more a more normal level for you? And then the next well,

Unknown Speaker 49:51

that's like almost an iceberg. He had made a question Remember that when I was 10 years old, I didn't know what Asperger's was, I knew I had a problem and didn't have friends. So it wasn't really possible for me to say, he's like me, because I didn't know what the definition of me was relative to you. If I had had that knowledge, maybe the answer would be yes. Will we move forward in time to when I was somewhat older. I didn't know about Asperger's when I was 20. But I know like geeks, I mean, I saw Star Trek and I, I went to science fiction conventions and stuff like that. And, you know, we used to laugh at that, but, but that is a place that you would meet other Asperger people. I know that. For people with Asperger's, and even these pro Asperger's comes with limited social skill. Finding a mate is, is a goal and a challenge. And you tend to think, well, if I could find a girl with Asperger's, she would understand me. And I'm not so sure that from my own experience with made acquisition and retention,

Unknown Speaker 51:29

when you are drawn to another person with Asperger's as a potential mate, it's like, both of you are emotionally blind. And, to me, that is a potential formula for disaster. My current experience with mega retention suggests that a girl with a lot of emotional intelligence, the exact opposite of an Asperger, like me, is a more stable and solid proposition for a mate. Because then you have skills that complement one another, she can see the things that I can't say, and I can solve the logical, practical problems that she can. And it works together and it's functional. And I wrote about that, in a chapter in my book called married life. So that is my, my thought on that. I mean, I'm sure that any possible combination of mate could work. But being a logical guy, I mean, if you think about it, logically, that to me sounds like potentially the best fit. All offer you a thought about finding girls with emotional intelligence. Now, those of you who are girls in the audience, you might wonder why does he say something or find a guy's emotional intelligence? The answer is, I don't know. I do have something about about guys. There is a change in the female brain that occurs when children are born. There's a slight change in the male brain that occurs when they become fathers, there's a much bigger change in the female brain. And I think it's evident if you look at people who do not have kids who are say, 25 years old, if you look at females out, kids are 25. You look at females with young children who are 25. And you're observant, you will say that the 25 year olds with children display significantly greater emotional intelligence and they can have, they can deploy that emotional intelligence, not just in their dealings with their own children, but in their dealings with everyone. There presumably are some some girls who become mothers who have more and some who have less. And you might wonder, how do you predict which 20 year old will have a lot and which will have a little because I won't learn a lot? I don't know the answer to that. But I believe the answer exists, and it's possible someone could find it. And when you ask the opposite magic girls looking for guys, I I don't really know what to say people. You know, people will say to me, Well, I've got this husband or this boyfriend with Asperger's. And he doesn't, he doesn't give me the emotional responses I want. The one thing I can say, when a female says to me, this guy doesn't give me these responses and he's got Asperger's is if you read my stories of being young, and you read about my feelings, it's going to be absolutely crystal clear in Stories, that I have the same feelings that any other kid did. The things that made you sad, make me sad things that make me happy, make you happy, I can feel a great fondness or love for you. You may not see it, but that does not mean I don't feel it. So the challenge in understanding a guy with Asperger's is not to make him feel the things it's to develop an ability to see it and him if he can't show it. It's That's a hard question. And I wish I could answer it better because I know what's real important to people. But, but the business of female seeing males and male seeing females, those issues, I believe, have fundamentally different answers as I just tried to illustrate my mumbling way. So Well, shall we sign books here. Well, thank you all.

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