SWITCHED ON by John Elder Robison


A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening
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The bestselling author shares his experience as a participant in a cutting-edge study of the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation on the brains of people on the autism spectrum.

A team of Harvard neuroscientists hoped that stimulating the outer layer of the brain might induce it to rewire itself and increase its emotional IQ. Robison (Raising Cubby: A Father and Son's Adventures with Asperger's, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives, 2013, etc.) explains that those on the autism spectrum are not unemotional or uncaring but rather lack self-awareness and the ability to read and respond empathetically to the emotions of others. They miss cues such as tone of voice and facial expression. Because of this, their responses may be inappropriate. Robison relates how, despite his success in a number of fields, he was frustrated by his social disability, which hampered his social relationships. In his youth, he engineered sound and lighting systems for leading rock groups, and he went on to a corporate job designing electronic games. Currently, he owns a business restoring high-end automobiles. In the past decade, the author has also gained recognition as a writer and consultant on autism. For six months, Robison received TMS on a weekly basis. Before and after, he was tested at the lab and also discussed his experience of the treatment with the scientists. He had always loved music but in an abstract way; now, when listening, he felt intense emotions. The author writes movingly of how his response to other people developed a depth previously lacking, and his own responses became more expressive. Within this new mindset, his wife's chronic depression induced a painfully depressed feeling in him, and for the first time, he recognized subtle mockery from someone he thought to be a friend. Although his emotions flattened out somewhat after the sessions ended, he has experienced a lasting emotional sensitivity. He is optimistic about the direction of the research.

A fascinating companion to the previous memoirs by this masterful storyteller.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9689-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015

Kirkus Interview
John Elder Robison
author of SWITCHED ON
March 14, 2016

In 2007, John Elder Robison wrote the international bestseller Look Me in the Eye, a memoir about growing up with Asperger’s syndrome. Amid the blaze of publicity that followed, he received a unique 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 extraordinary story of what happened next. 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. But what if we’ve been wrong all this time? What if that “missing” emotional insight was there all along, locked away and inaccessible in the mind? “A fascinating companion to the previous memoirs by this masterful storyteller,” our reviewer writes. View video >


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