☕ Book Break ☕ | Switched On by John Elder Robison

Reposted from my older site.

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Book Review of Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening by John Elder Robison

In a quest for emotional intelligence, John Elder Robison agreed to allow neuroscientists to experiment on his brain. In this memoir that reminds one of Flowers for Algernon, Robison tells us about his experience with TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and the resulting effects on his emotions and life.

Imagine your world being turned upside down by a sudden awareness that things are not at all the way you thought they were. Scales drop from your eyes. You connect with people in a way you never have before. Things are different, sharper. But there is a caveat. You  see that sometimes ‘friends’ are most definitely not friends at all. Childhood memories are now viewed with disturbing clarity. The gift you so sought after, to become more perceptive, is now yours but the beauty so desired and expected isn’t the only thing this new found ability to see emotion reveals.

I was moved by Switched On in a way no other memoir has touched me. This is truly a unique experience that Robison has shared.

After the reception his book, Look Me In the Eye, John Elder Robison was approached to participate in a research study. Scientists wanted to measure the plasticity of the brain, in other words, how the brain can adapt, change, and ‘rewire’ itself. They also sought results about cognitive therapies and how that might affect the brain. The idea was to see if TMS could be used to effect the difficulties autistic people have reading the emotions and nonverbal communication of others.

People on the autism spectrum are not unemotional or uncaring. They do have difficulty reading people, understanding, and responding in the expected way to situations. This is something that people are expected to come by naturally, but this skill seems particularly elusive to people on the spectrum.

Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change, chronicles the unexpected and far reaching results of this research study. Robison underwent moments of amazing emotional awakening and others of devastation as a result of the sudden onslaught of awareness.

This memoir leaves us with more questions than answers about the future of TMS for therapeutic uses. Delving into this area of research raises a multitude of ethical questions.

“The thing is, not all differences lead to disability. Some lead to exceptionality. And we don’t necessarily know enough to tell one from the other. Yet we are on the verge of acting on that incomplete knowledge right now in the area of autism.”

Switched On left me feeling conflicted. It offers hope for future understanding and therapies, but is, in part, a cautionary tale. We would do well to take heed. At the same time, there were tremendous gains for Robison. This book has given me a deeper understanding of why someone might be willing to try these kinds of treatments.

I like Robison’s writing style. I find his books to be easy to read and entertaining, while at the same time providing information. In this particular book he does tend to stray into areas that are a bit technical for me, but his down-to-earth style kept me engaged with the story throughout. This book was a fascinating read and I finished it quickly.

I recommend this book for anyone curious about TMS, autism, or for anyone interested in a good memoir.

I also suggest Robison’s first book, Look Me in The Eye, or another of his books, Be Different, both of which I found to be very encouraging and informative. This recent book is a bit different than the two I have previously read since it deals with medical research, but Robison’s engaging story telling style remains. In Switched On Robison has given readers the opportunity to gain further insights into his autistic journey.

Listen as John Elder Robison talks about his experience on NPR “Here and Now.”

Read my review of John Elder Robinson’s memoir Look Me in the Eye here.

My Hero

I shared this as part of another IG challenge, this one a writing challenge with @simmeringmind. The prompt was: A real life hero or writer who inspires you. Photo from Unsplash.

Anytime I think of a hero, I think of my kids. My kids are the reason I write what I do. The snippet below is an excerpt from the speech I gave at my youngest son’s graduation.

Eddie Rickenbacker, the WW I Ace and Medal of Honor recipient said, “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”

There have been many things to be afraid of. When the world is loud and crowds you and it’s hard to tell up from down, in from out; terror doesn’t only stalk, it sidles up next to you and tries to claw its way into your back pocket.

When he was small, the invisible and seen were jumbled together and everything screamed danger. Fears were faced daily, but I remember one day in particular. We were at the church door, and he could not move.

He did not bury his face in my skirt, but edged closer to me. We waited. After a pause, his big brother opened the glass door. We all went in together.

Our place was in the back row. During the singing all the people stood, so we did, too, and he leaned into me. His little boy body trembled. I sat back down, but did not take him into my lap. Instead, with one arm I circled his thin shoulders and laid my other hand on his sticky-damp forehead.

A man stared at us. I joined in to sing the chorus with the congregation, my arms remaining around my child, the pressure firm and sure while he sat, solid and still.

He closed his eyes. We breathed in unison. In, out, in, out. His balled up fists became loose and lost their whiteness around the knuckles.

He has always been the bravest one. 

I’ve watched him square his shoulders more times than I can count.

“Courage doesn’t always roar.

Sometimes courage is the quiet voice

at the end of the day, saying,

‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Mary Anne Radmacher

There have been many, many tomorrows. There are Giants in the land. Everyday courage takes everyday perseverance. To see the persistence, the faith walked out in small, careful steps has grown in me a deep and steady strength I never knew was possible.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

C.S. Lewis

To see him get up, try again, time after time is enough to produce a vision of what heroic truly means.

Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, leave a comment telling me about your biggest hero.

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ | Daring Greatly by Brene Brown #popsugarreadingchallenge

I’m getting back to my #popsugarreadingchallenge2019 list. I did well at the start of the year but lost a bit of steam as time went on. Does that ever happen to you?

A book by an author whose first and last names start with the same letter

 

I picked Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly

Have you read this one? Have you read any of her books?

I read this back when it came out and it really resonated with me. I found myself nodding in agreement as I was reading. If you haven’t read any of her work, I highly recommend her. I may not agree with every single thing she says, but there’s so much good stuff in here.

☕ Book Break ☕ | The Aspie Girl’s Guide to Being Safe with Men by Debi Brown

~The Aspie Girl’s Guide to Being Safe with Men by Debi Brown~

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s sad such a book has to be written, but it is a hard fact that people on the spectrum are some of the most vulnerable. The characteristics of autism make those with ASD easy targets. It’s hard to stay safe when you can’t read body language and you don’t understand social interaction well.

This book is written by a woman on the spectrum to young women and girls on the spectrum. It is not bogged down by technical jargon but rather reads like a conversation imparting sisterly advice. At the same time, it is well organized. Much of the information contained in this book are things girls are assumed to instinctively know or pick up from their friends. This does not happen for people on the spectrum. Even if a person has been instructed about the topics in this book, having the unwritten safety rules organized and written out is a good idea and would probably be helpful.

If you care about a young lady on the spectrum I feel purchasing this book or one like it is needed and money well spent. This small volume is easy to understand and written in a friendly, sensitive, accessible style. This is a book about sexuality and staying safe in sexual relationships from a female aspie perspective. Have the conversation.

This is the first book I have seen on this specific topic. I haven’t seen one for guys yet. If you have please let me know in the comments.

☕ Book Break ☕ |~Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D.Vance~

~Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D.Vance~

I finally got around to reading Hillbilly Elegy. This is an interesting and eye-opening memoir. I’ve heard people compare Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance and White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History by Nancy Isenberg, liking one over the other, but I found each one of these books unique in its own right. Studying our culture has always been a special fascination to me, so these types of books are right up my alley.

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir about an a Kentucky boy with few advantages who grew up and made it good. He managed to go to an elite college, graduate, and become financially successful. This book is an exposition of his roots and a narrative of his journey. It’s also an examination of what has happened to the American dream and why so many have failed to achieve it from the perspective of an insider. It’s very thought-provoking.

I found myself growing attached to the characters in this story. Moving, at times humorous, colorful, interesting.

I think it is a much-needed read for anyone who wants to understand class in America. I would pair this with the other book, White Trash. If you’re not a voracious reader like I am, I think either one is excellent. If you prefer memoir then Hillbilly Elegy may suit your taste, if you lean more towards a broader examination of the class structure and love history, you may prefer White Trash. In all honesty, I feel they both deserve a place on your shelf.

Get both if you can.

What’s the last memoir you read?

☕ Book Break ☕ | ~Educated by Tara Westover~

~Educated by Tara Westover~

Tara Westover grew up never going to school, working in her dad’s junkyard, and assisting her mother as she prepared herbal remedies and served as a community midwife. The family practiced Mormonism and Tara’s father had strict beliefs that went beyond the mainstream. The book is about her experiences. I feel like it was it sensitively done. Often as I was reading this I had to put the book aside. It was difficult to read at times.

Is it possible to disentangle oneself from the influences of their childhood? How much do the things we experience growing up affect the rest of our lives? Familial bonds are far reaching, probably influencing us more than we realize.

Educated is a well written account, if at times stretching the limits of believability, but that is the nature of memory and Tara Westover makes note of that. I’m glad I stuck with this book because there’s something deeper here.

It made me reexamine my own childhood. While reading the narrative, I was deeply touched at times. I teared up when she was recounting a specific incident with her mother that appeared to be a restoration, giving hope for that relationship.

This is one complicated family. Her father doesn’t believe in doctors and, according to a now grown up Tara, displays signs of bipolar disorder. Paranoid, he stockpiles food and guns, ranting about the government and the Illuminati. He seems unaware of the danger he constantly puts himself and his family in, causing many injuries by refusing to take basic safety measures.

This is an important story to tell, showing how living with a parent who suffers from a mental illness can affect the entire family. By reading this account I have garnered a greater understanding of why adult children have a difficult time breaking free from their dysfunctional family.

As I read this memoir I pondered gender roles and the tragedies that can occur in a structure that allows only one member of the family to have authority.

It’s exactly the kind of book I like, one that makes you think. Educated is an excellent book for discussion and book clubs.

On a personal side note, we unschooled our children. In my opinion, what Tara is describing is not unschooling or homeschooling but is neglect. She does mention that other family members homeschool their children and those children appear to be receiving an adequate and genuine education. This memoir is not a criticism of homeschooling or religion but an account of her own experience told from her perspective.

 

☕ Book Break ☕ |~American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse~

~American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse~

“Some people light things on fire because they feel like they have to.”

This book is a telling of the true crime story of the arson in Accomack County. For a while it seemed as if the entire county would burn to ash. The is a fascinating account of the crimes committed, how the culprits managed to elude capture so long, and what set of circumstances could lead to these strange arsons.

If you have an addiction to true crime shows this one might just hook you. I could not stop reading. Well written and meticulously researched, this book was absorbing. Not just a crime story, it is an examination of the decline of a once prosperous community, a picture of what has happened all over the United States.

This is one of those strangely twisted love stories. He did it for love.

Well drawn characters. Engaging, interesting, and good storytelling. Recommended.