Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If you like this blog . . .

I have three others, plus this new book on the way . . .

Some of you may have seen that the "Schedule of Appearances" is no longer on the right sidebar of the main blog. That's because I've moved my schedule of appearances to a blog of its own. You can follow that at

My car business has a blog at Even if you're not really a car person you may like the photography on that blog.

Finally, my Psychology Today blog is

I try and keep different content on all three. And for those of you on Facebook, JohnRobison is my personal page, and JohnElderRobison is my "public figure" page.

I started out with this one blog in January of 2007. I opened my Facebook page in the summer of 2008. Last fall, Psychology Today invited me to keep a blog on their site. I didn't want my car business to feel neglected so I started a blog for it, too, at the same time.

I started a separate blog of appearances with the goal of feeding that into my other sites so that I only have to update the schedule in one place. I haven't quite figured out how to do that, but I'm getting there.

I really appreciate all of you who've followed and read this material over the past two and a half years. I have learned so much from you.

Last month, I posted some thoughts about my next book. I've taken your comments to heart, and I am making some revisions to address some of the issues you raised. In particular, I am rethinking these important points:

I'm describing my failures at greater length, because some of you got the impression that success sort of came naturally to me. That's not true, but I may have made it look that way more than I should have.

I have thought more about bullying issues, and I will illustrate them with stories of The Blob and other colorful children from my youth.

Several of you have asked me to give a more balanced portrait of Asperger's as a serious disability, as discussed in recent posts here and on Autism Gadfly. I am going to do that, but this is still a book based on my experiences, and that hasn't always been my life experience. That said, I am going to illustrate the breadth of the spectrum more carefully and completely thanks to your remarks.

I am also thinking more about the dating and relationship questions.

Right now, I have a few friends and some of the people I work with reading the first draft. That will no doubt lead to more revisions. I expect to wrap most of that up this month. As always, your continued comments and thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wanting to be accepted as I am

I have often said I want to be accepted for who I am. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that goal. At some level, I am sure every human shares it. But what does it mean, for people on the spectrum in real life?

Does that statement mean society should accept bizarre or obnoxious behavior in the name of “acceptance?” I say no. It does not matter if you are autistic, nypical, tall or short, or black or white. If you act obnoxious you will be perceived as obnoxious, and society will reject you. If you act really obnoxious you will lose your job and your friends, fail at school, and you might be arrested.

In fact, you may not even get to first base. Obnoxious behavior will prevent making friends or getting a job in the first place. Bad behavior is a fundamental barrier to almost any success in society. It is very hard to achieve anything significant as a total loner, and that’s what you will be if you can’t get along.

Every society sets standards of behavior by “majority vote.” If you act outside those norms, you are going to have a problem. That’s not my opinion; it’s an observed reality.

So how do you reconcile that fact with the desire to be accepted as you are? You adjust your behavior to act in ways that will not result in your exclusion from whatever you want to do.

For most of us on the spectrum, they call that learning social skills. Yesterday someone wrote in to my blog with this comment:

I can't get along with "Aspies" because they refuse to take personal responsibility for themselves and get help. They like to complain about how "society" doesn't accept them and expects "society" to accept their disruptive behavior rather than seeking help from qualified professionals and taking responsibility for their behavior. ND only helps "Aspies" revel in their diagnosis since it is only a "difference" that needs no "cure." And yet they can never figure out why they can't hold down a must be because of society, not because of their refusal to get help for their medical disorder.

I can’t speak for others with Asperger’s, but I do not think the above comment applies to people with attitudes like mine. However, I must admit that I’ve met a fair number of people who do feel they have the right to act any way they think, and the burden is on the wider world to accommodate them.

I’m afraid many of those folks are headed for disaster.

I’ve even seen it start in elementary school, where I have witnessed atrocious behavior only to have a teacher dismiss it with, “Just ignore him. He has autism!”


If we can’t teach kids to behave, they will grow up to a lifetime of rejection, ostracism, and even jail.

That is the fundamental problem with Asperger’s. We look normal. We sound normal. There is no visible component to our disability. Therefore, when we say or do something bizarre, we are guaranteed a bad reception.

A guy in a wheelchair cries out for consideration by his appearance. You can excuse his cranky behavior because he has an obvious disability. Even a guy who stutters and says weird stuff as a result of Tourette’s is more obviously disabled than most of us. We don’t look or sound disabled at all. Therefore society will not excuse our bad behavior.

And going on the attack about the situation won’t help. When we lash out in anger we are assured a poor reception as people close ranks to defend themselves against us. The old adage that you catch more flies with honey than with a hammer is certainly true in my experience.

I’ve written on this before, and there have been times that I’ve made fun of my own rude behavior. For those who challenged me, I’d like to make clear that it’s all a matter of perspective. Sure, I am rude at times. I can’t help it. I can be inconsiderate, too. But those times are overshadowed by the times I am polite and considerate, and that’s what allows me to succeed. Most of the time, I conform to enough social norms to get by.

It can be hard and it can be frustrating, but I do it.

At no time have I ever advocated being rude and obnoxious and expecting the wider world to accept it. That is not what I mean by tolerance. I know the burden is on me to act acceptable, and I do my best to do it.

In fact, that is not even an autism issue. It's a human issue. Everyone has to conform to society's norms, autism or no. It's just that people on the spectrum may be oblivious to their mistakes and they may therefore have a much harder time meeting behavioral expectations.

What do you think of that attitude? Agree? Disagree?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Can we all get along?

Just this morning I was reading a post on Autism’s Gadfly, and it made me think about the tremendously different wants and needs of people at various points on the autism spectrum.

His motto is, We don’t want no stinkin neurodiversity! We need a cure.

In my writing, I have said, I don’t need a cure; I just want compassion and understanding.

Those statements seem pretty opposite to me. Yet we are both adults with autism. How can our views be so different? That is the essence of the problem. We have the same diagnosis, but we are impacted very differently.

Too much of anything isn’t good for you. Maybe a touch of autism makes some of us creative, and gives us advantages that outweigh the components of disability. However, the fact that I am high functioning and only mildly impaired does not mean that all autistic people are like me.

I do not have speech impairment. In fact, I have unusually good speech. I don’t have digestive issues, or growth limitations, or other autism-related health problems. Yet autism has still shaped my life, in many fundamental ways, and that continues today.

I have participated in several experimental studies that measured brain parameters that correlate with autism, and I match people with far greater impairment in many key ways. So I may be less impaired but our brains still share certain essential differences.

That tells me that folks like me and Jonathan may have a lot in common neurologically, but our thinking may be miles apart based on the different ways autism has shaped our lives. When Jonathan describes the way autism affects him, he sees many disabilities and few if any offsetting gifts. I see some real components of disability in myself, but also some great gifts.

Seen from my perspective, Jonathan’s desire to cure his disability is perfectly reasonable. At the same time, I hope he can agree that my desire to live as I am and seek acceptance is reasonable too.

I look at mothers whose kids are on the spectrum and see the same thing. Kim Stagliano wants more than almost anything else for her kids to talk. She might call that a cure. Kyra Anderson is more like me, in that she wants to help her child fit in and find acceptance.

Samwick writes in to my blog, taking me to task for portraying Asperger’s as less of a disability that it is, in his eyes. Yet I don’t want to understate the potential for growth we all have. And my stories do reflect my own life on the spectrum.

All of us in the autism community should keep in mind the tremendous range of impact autism can have. When one person talks of a cure, and someone else talks neurodversity, we should recognize that those individuals may be coming from very different places.

One man’s cure seems like another’s poison.

Autism is a condition that can leave one person totally disabled while making another an eccentric genius. The problem is, the totally disabled can’t speak for themselves, and high functioning people like me can make autism appear less serious than it is, for those more impaired individuals.

When the less informed public looks at me, and thinks, “There goes a successful guy with autism,” it may create the impression that anyone on the spectrum can be equally functional. That is simply not true. Everyone can grow and improve, but some people always go farther than others.

If a person has serious speech difficulty as a consequence of autism he’s going to have a much harder time making it in American society. If he does not progress as far as someone else, that does not mean he’s lazy or stupid.

It’s very hard to maintain a balance between recognizing latent potential in people, giving them hope, while still being cognizant of the fundamental limitations autism may impose.

I just wish people could discuss these issues without the bitterness and hostility that breaks out.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Indian Day in Suffield

This afternoon I visited Hilltop Farm in Suffield, Connecticut for Indian Day. Hilltop was built by Indian founder George Hendee upon his retirement in 1916. After leaving Indian, Mr. Hendee spent the rest of his life raising Guernsey cattle and supporting various charities including Shriner's Hospital, the YMCA, and the Boys Club.

Indian was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer for a time. After Hendee's retirement the company passed through a number of managers and owners. Manufacture of motorcycles in Springfield ceased in the early 1950s.

It's a bit ironic that we have an Indian celebration at the farm, because Mr. Hendee never had any Indian events there in his lifetime, as far as I know. In fact, when Charles Manthos - founder of the Indian Museum - asked Hendee's widow for memorabilia or information about the company, she just said, "Let it die."

Mr. Manthos'widow recently donated the Indian Museum to the Springfield Museums, which will be opening a spectacular new exhibition building this October.

For those of you who ask about technical details, these pictures were created using a Nikon D3 camera with 28-70 lens and polarizer. The color was enhanced by the Photomatrix HDR Photoshop plugin.

There were vintage and new Indian machines at the event.

It was a nice setting, with the Indians lined up alongside the pasture fence. Most of the Hilltop events are agriculture-oriented, so this was a refreshign change for both the people and the animals.

I was surprised at the number of vintage Indians that appeared. I was also pleased to see Butch Baer, an old time Indian racer whose father was the original Indian dealer in Springfield. And as a special treat, June Cook - George Hendee's neice - was there with her scrapbooks showing the farm in its heyday.

Here's a link to a local news feature on Butch:

Most of the old bikes were ridden to the show. Here's a rider kicking his machine to start the journey home

Hilltop Farm is located at 1608 Mapleton Avenue in Suffield, just a few miles south of Six Flags. You'll find more information on the Friends of Hilltop Farm here

Monday, July 13, 2009

A listing of my upcoming appearances

It's been a while since I circulated a list of appearances. Remember, this list is always available in up to date form on the right sidebar of my regular blog, at

I'm still got some openings this fall and winter, and I'd be happy to work with your organization to set something up. Contact Sally Itterly at the Lavin Agency to book me -

Here’s a current listing of events:

Tuesday July 28 - Join me and Dr. Kimberly DeOre, MD, on Sirius/XM Doctor Radio on from 8-10am Eastern time. This will be a live show talking about Asperger’s, autism, and whatever else is on our listener’s minds.

August 18, New York *FREE BOOKS * Join me, Warren St John and Hannah Tinti for a Teacher's Event at Random House, 1745 Broadway from 3-5PM SPACE IS LIMITED! First Come, First Served. RSVP with your name, title, and school no later than July 15TH.
Refreshments will be served.
Tell your colleagues about this event.

Sept 11, Springfield, MA Join me for the Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement parade, where we carry the inductees from Symphony Hall to the Hall of Fame in a convoy of historic Rolls Royce motorcars. This will be a crowded event as Michael Jordan is being inducted this year.

Sept 16, Defiance, OH I will be doing a series of programs at Defiance College

Sept 20, Stowe, VT - I'll be at the British Invasion, the largest British car event on the East Coast

Sept 24, Lawrence, MA Join me at Northern Essex Community College from 12:30 to 2.

Sept 28, Grand Rapids, MI I’ll be the keynote speaker for the annual conference of the Michigan Primary Care Association

Oct 14, Potsdam, NY - I'll be at SUNY Potsdam - details to follow

Oct 20, on the radio - Join host Lisa Davis, MPH, C.N.C. and me on on Boston 91.5 radio, live 10-10:30 Eastern Time. The show will be streamed on the web if you are outside the listening area.

Oct 22, Providence, RI - Join me at Bradley Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island as part of their “Speaking of Kids” series

Oct 28, Portland, OR - I'll be doing a luncheon presentation at Albertina Kerr Centers at the Governor Hotel. Contact Annie Gannon for details

Nov 25, Dedham, MA - I'll be speaking at Noble and Greenough, a private high school. There will be some space for non-students; contact the school for details

Mar 12, Rockville, MD - I'll be at "Diamonds in the Rough: Smart Kids who Learn Differently" at the University of Maryland

Mar 23, Worcester, MA – Join me at Assumption College
April 20, 2010, Eau Claire, WI - I'll be appearing at several classes and programs at the University of Wisconsin's Eau Claire campus. Check back closer to April for more details.

May 1, 2010, Garden City, NY - Join me at Adelphi University for the AHA /Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association’s spring conference: Issues in Independent Living for Adolescents and Adults on the Autism Spectrum.

Oct 8, 2010, Waterloo, IL - I'll be the keynote speaker for Teacher's Institute at
Monroe-Randolph Regional Office of Education

Manners - superficial, necessary, both or neither?

When I was younger, people often accused me of strange behavior. I used to feel bad, but now I see the accusations in a different light.

I've learned that neurotypical people - folks who don't have autism - have certain expectations for how another person will act. And first impressions are all-important for many. If I want to make a good one, the onus is on me to act as expected.

To do that, I needed to learn how to act ‘normal' in the context in which I found myself. The first step was figuring out what ‘normal' really meant. To my surprise, the answer to that turned out to be simple: normal means ‘well mannered.' Manners were always something I lacked, according to everyone involved in raising me.

I can still remember my mother turning to me, with food on my face, and saying, "Look at you! What would your grandmother say?" She meant to admonish me, but comments like that never worked. Still, she was right. My grandmother Carolyn always complained about my manners. I've always been resistant to following orders or instructions that I find foolish or arbitrary, which was how I saw her advice at the time.

Carolyn persisted in her training efforts long enough that a few things actually stuck. For example, she taught me the right way to hold a knife and fork. Maybe that worked because it made sense. I still don't know of any better or more functional way to do it. Making a fist around the fork - as most children do at first - is both impolite and inefficient. The polite method of holding a fork provides for better control of the tool. It's a good idea that's also good manners.

Even passing food makes sense. I'd be tempted to reach across the table for a bowl of grits or beans, and my grandmother would catch me, "John Elder! Say, please pass me the beans!" My great grandfather ignored her and reached across the table anyway. When he did, bugs and other disgusting things fell from his arms into our plates. And he didn't care. "I'm a farmer," he'd say. As if that excused a live, crawling thing on my bacon. After that I didn't mind hearing, "Pass the food," so much.

If only all manners were that way! Unfortunately, they are not. Consider ingestion of soup from a bowl. When I was small, I used a spoon to eat most of my soup, and then I picked up the bowl, tipped it, and drank the rest. After a lot of struggle, Carolyn finally convinced me that was rude. To this day I won't drink from my bowl if I am with other people. I know that's a sign that I have manners.

Aspergians like me are notoriously logical and straightforward, and much of the time, manners are neither. They are not "common sense,' nor are they, "acting right." That's why manners didn't come naturally to me.

Common sense tells me the most efficient way to ingest soup is to tip the bowl and drink it. In fact, unless you have a spoon that's specifically contoured for the bowl you're using, that's the only way to get every last drop. And common sense tells us not to be wasteful.

Acting right - the moral imperative to treat others as you'd like to be treated - doesn't say much at all about drinking from the soup bowl. I know it's not right to throw food, or jab the person next to me with a fork. But where's the harm to anyone in drinking from a bowl that was assigned to me by the host or hostess? The answer is, there is no harm. There's just more efficient food ingestion and reduced waste.

And yet . . . it's rude to do it. For many years, logic prevented me from complying with rules of etiquette like that. I thought they were illogical and foolish, and I just would not go along. Eventually I came to understand that I benefited from compliance with the social rules, even when they seem illogical, wasteful, or nonsensical. Today, I look at my bowl and realize that it's better to act polite. In our society of plenty, where I seldom go hungry, their positive impression of me is worth more than the small amount of extra soup I'd get by tipping and drinking. I am sure things would be different if I were starving.

For a long time I tried to govern my interpersonal relations exclusively by what felt right; by my moral compass. That strategy served me well around close friends and family, and it's always worked for the big things in life. Unfortunately, a morals-based behavioral strategy breaks down in casual interactions; the sort one has at a dinner party.

There, I encountered strangers who were critical of me. At first, I reacted with hostility to what I perceived as shallow, superficial posturing. So what if I don't hold the door for you? Can't each of us take responsibility to open our own doors? It eventually became clear that my logical and ethical behavior just wasn't good enough - I was alienating strangers with my failure to "act like everyone else."

Manners seem to come naturally to many neurotypicals. I suspect that's because they are accustomed to doing what they are taught, whereas I have always resisted that. It's caused me considerable difficulty.

How do you feel about manners? Are they just superficial? Or do they have a deeper foundation?

Why do we have them?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A noteworthy quote and an interesting link

One of my mom friends was watching the kids at her son's school. Two of them were arguing pretty loudly. One of them said to the other,

"Just because you're rude and obnoxious doesn't mean you have Asperger's too!"

And there you have it. Keep that in mind, the next time you have an altercation.

And if you'd like to meet a 19 year old Aspergian, my son Cubby is now on Facebook. Send him a friend request at

Cloud Computing and me

I read a blog post on cloud computing recently that got me thinking. It’s came from my friend Ann Dawson, who works for Tortus, a local web company.

Here's her story

I thought of my own situation and how it’s evolved. I dismissed the cloud phrase at first but the more I thought about it, the more I saw I am definitely into the concept if not the name.

In my pre-cloud days I had endless trouble keeping track of appointments. I’d fail to show up somewhere, and the only thing that saved me was the residual goodwill people had for me. Something better was clearly needed, but what? I had Outlook on my computer at home, and I synced the calendar with my Blackberry, but stuff still fell through the cracks because I never had a single calendar that was accessible anywhere.

As an example, I’d get a phone call at work inviting me to do a radio show, and I’d agree and set a time, but it was just too much trouble to type all the info into the tiny phone keyboard. I could write a note in my work computer, but I promptly forgot these half the time. I just had to hope I remembered till I got home and put it in Outlook. It wasn’t a very good system.

That was where thing stood when I found MobileMe from Apple. MM has a virtual version of Outlook that keeps all my contacts and appointments and tasks online, and it synchronizes seamlessly with Outlook at home and my new iphone. I had seen MM before but I didn’t pick up on it. I decided to give it a try when I got my new iphone a few weeks back.

The new iphone is such a marvel it’s deserving of a post of its own, but that’s something for another day.

It’s really remarkable how well MM works, and what a huge improvement a small thing like that can make. I can sit here at my desk at work, and schedule a date two months from now, and it’s just there. It’s downloaded into my phone right away, and it will be on the Outlook calendar when I get home. All automatically.

In itself, that isn’t too magical. There are other apps that do something similar but Apple’s seamless integration with the online calendar and my phone is really neat. But Wait! As the late Billy Mays would say, There’s more!

The same MM app also makes backups of my writing and stores them online. There was a time that we thought of online backup as vague and insecure, but frankly, I’d trust Apple’s servers a lot more than some local web hosting firm. Wouldn’t you? Some people are really good at making backup discs and carrying them to a safe location, but I’m not one of them.

And at the same time, I keep another backup on the Google servers. I don’t know how to calculate the reliability of that dual online system, but I’ll bet it’s far better than any of the do-it-yourself home backups it replaced. Anyone who ever tried to restore a home backup and found an unreadable CD knows what I mean.

MM also synchronizes email from multiple accounts, something I was never able to master till now. Gmail was a huge step forward in terms of search ability and storage, but this goes a big step farther.

I can now access all my writing from any computer, anywhere and any time. I can do the same with all my appointments, and my contacts. I can even remotely wipe all that stuff off my phone if I lose it.

MM even holds the backup records from my company, so those computers are protected by the same inexpensive solution. And finally – this is a small thing but it’s really a big deal – MM keeps all the Internet bookmarks from my various browser in one place. I never realized how useful that was till I saw it.

I no longer depend on any particular computer for anything but photo processing. I could lose any one or two machines and those aspects of my life would be totally unaffected. The only place I remain machine-dependent is my photography. Those files are really big, and I need an online backup provider for them. I thought I had one with HP, but as soon as I signed up they got out of the business.

At least they gave me a refund. That’s more than you get from some startups.

I’m still looking for the best online backup for my original image files. I’ve got 80,000 of them, so it’s a lot of space. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some tools for writers

I don't post many stories or tips on the process of writing. This evening I'd like to take a small step to address that deficiency.

I do 99% of my writing in one of two places - in my office at home, or in my corner at Robison Service. I seem to write better material in the morning, but I write stuff at night too and hope it's acceptable.

I don't use outlines or any tools to prepare a book.

Most of my writing is done on Gateway computers with Microsoft Word. I back my stuff up online.

None of that is very novel or interesting, but I'll bet you have not seen this nifty gadget:

That thing is called Cliche Cleaner, and that's pretty much what it does. It's a program that analyses your words to find repeated phrases or tired cliches (it has an inventory of thousands)which it then lists for your perusal and alteration.

It picks up both trite stock phrases, like "fit as a fiddle," and repeated phrases of your own making, like, "and then the Klingons killed him."

I used it for the first time on the initial version of this newest manuscript. Till I ran it, I had no idea how many repeated phrases and such I had. Quite useful, and only $12.

The next useful tool is a drink. Some of you drink bourbon or wine; I drink tea.

This fellow has a company in upstate New York that specializes in the blending of teas:

I got to know owner Paul Harney because he has Land Rovers, my favorite vehicles.

They sell bottled tea, but what I really like are the fruit flavored bad teas. Flavored tea that you buy is usually full of sweeteners and other bad stuff. The Harney teas are just straight bags of tea and fruit essences and spice.

I also like their bottled organic juices.

Harney teas are sold in the coffee shops of many of my favorite bookstores, including Northshire in Manchester, Vermont.

When I am doing reseach for a story I like to copy materials and take photos. I own several cameras but the one that gives the best bang for the buck is my Canon G10

For $500 this little camera runs circles around the competition. It has image stabilization, which reduces blur. You can hold it over a book or catalog and take photos that print as nicely as photocopies. Its image quality is remarkable. It's small and portable, and reasonably rugged.

Some of you have asked where I get ideas. I think they develop over time. Something comes to me, and I talk to friends about it, and the idea of a story germinates.

I get some ideas from what people write me on the blog or Facebook, and I get more from talking to people in person. At some point, it pops into place and I write it down. I do a lot of formulating and thinking while walking. Here is an image from my local woodlands:

That particular photo was taken with my Leica camera, and processed in photoshop with the Photomatrix HDR plugin. HDR processing compresses the color range in the scene to render more of the subtle shades visible. All the colors you see are natural but the HDR processor brings them out in ways you would not otherwise see.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Riding the zip lines at Berkshire East

I'd never tried this before. I'd heard of zip lines in faraway places, like Colorado or Costa Rica. They are now right here in Western Massachusetts. The course at Berkshire East in Charlemont was really a blast!

Here are some images of the run:

And stay tuned for more book news . . . Woof!