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Imagine spending the first forty years of your life in darkness, blind to the emotions and social signals of other people. Then imagine that someone suddenly switches the lights on. It has long been assumed that people living with autism are born with the diminished ability to read the emotions of others, even as they feel emotion deeply. What if that missing emotional insight was there all along, locked away and inaccessible in the mind?
In 2007 John Elder Robison wrote Look Me in the Eye, a memoir about growing up with Asperger's syndrome. Amid the publicity that followed, he received an invitation: Would John like to take part in a study led by one of the world's foremost neuroscientists, who would use an experimental new brain therapy known as TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, in an effort to understand and then address the issues at the heart of autism? Switched On is the story of what happened next.
Having spent forty years misreading others' emotions or missing them completely, John is suddenly able to sense a powerful range of feelings in other people. However, this newfound insight brings unforeseen problems and serious questions. As the emotional ground shifts beneath his feet, John struggles with the very real possibility that choosing to diminish his disability might also mean sacrificing his unique gifts and even some of his closest relationships. Switched On is a real-life Flowers for Algernon, a fascinating and intimate window into what it means to be neurologically different, and what happens when the world as you know it is upended overnight.
"Switched On is a mind-blowing book that will force you to ask deep questions about what is important in life. Would normalizing the brains of those who think differently reduce their motivation for great achievement?"--Temple Grandin, author of The Autistic Brain
"At the heart of Switched On are fundamental questions of who we are, of where our identity resides, of difference and disability and free will, which are brought into sharp focus by Robison's lived experience."--Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Effect
"In this fascinating book John Elder Robison raises deep questions: What does TMS do to the brain? Will it permanently change his experience of music, his emotions, and his ability to read faces? And if autism involves disability as well as talent, if we alter the different wiring in an autistic brain, is this a good thing? Robison's honest, brilliant, and very personal account helps us understand the perspective of someone living with autism."--Simon Baron-Cohen, professor, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University
John Elder Robison is a world-recognized authority on life with autism, and the author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby. Robison is the neurodiversity scholar in residence at the College of William & Mary, and serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which produces the U.S. government's strategic plan for autism spectrum disorder research.
320 pages. 2016