Sunday, June 30, 2013

A collection of John Robison media appearances - 2007-2013

John talks about Look Me in the Eye in 2007 – watch this and see how he’s changed since then!

Actor Jim Parsons (who plays Sheldon Cooper on Big bang) talks about learning about Asperger’s from reading Look Me in the Eye.  He says it was all the Asperger studying he did!

Seeing Yourself in Autism – John Robison in the NY Times, Dec 10, 2007

John talks about autism on the Today Show, August 2008

John and TMS are profiled on Discovery Science’s Ingenious Minds – 2011

John delivers the annual autism awareness talk at the National Institutes of Health – April 2013

John talking about Raising Cubby on CNN Starting Point, April 3, 2013

John talks about Cubby with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, March 16, 2013

John’s son is the subject of a front-page story in the NY Times, December 26, 2011

John is profiled in the Record, the newspaper of the US National Institutes of Health

John’s thoughts on Asperger’s and violence made Psychology Today magazine’s Top 5 most viewed for the year, December 2012

John is interviewed in the Times after his book is found in the Adam Lanza home

Wired and PLOS writer Steve Silberman won an award for his interview with John in 2011:

A Q&A from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 2013

Five interviews on WNYC New York – 2007-2013

John talks to Hippocampus Magazine – April 2013

John Robison tells the truth about Asperger’s – Bookish – March 2013

The NY Times reviews Raising Cubby, April 22, 2013

John’s CNN opinion piece on autism and violence remains the top search result for that phrase:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SIATE DIVERSI Storie di una vita con l’Asperger BE DIFFERENT comes to Italy

On June 6 the folks at Armando Editore have released my book BE DIFFERENT in Italian translation.    It's called SIATE DIVERSI Storie di una vita con l’Asperger  The book was translated my Maria Vacari in cooperation with my friends at Gruppo Asperger.  My friend Ilaria read this message at the book's release party in Rome:

I’d like to welcome you to the coming-out party for the Italian translation of my book, BE DIFFERENT.  I’d like to thank my friend Ilaria Minio Paluello at Sapienza University of Rome, who’s introducing my book to you tonight, and my friends all over Italy at Gruppo Asperger.  It was they who brought this idea to my Italian publisher, and made the whole thing possible.

Thanks to my Italian publisher too.  We wouldn’t be here without them!

I only wish I was able to join you in person tonight!   Ten years ago I would have been scared to travel so far.  Now, I travel all over the world, and I welcome the chance.   I had a great time when I came to your country last year, as guest of Ilaria, Gruppo Asperger, and Sapienza University.  I got to see Borghese park, the famous Milan train station, the Port of Genoa, and I got to ride a locomotive through the mountains to Torino!  It just goes to show . . . old dogs CAN learn new tricks.   I’m 55 years old and I learn new stuff all the time.

Some of you have read my earlier book Look Me in the Eye, my life with Asperger’s.  In that book I tell the story of growing up alone, isolated by a form of autism no one recognized; certain that I was defective.  As a small boy, my autism was purely a disability.

Things changed in my teen years.  My autistic isolation left me free to study the things I loved, like electronics and music.  My autistic power of concentration made me very good at that indeed.  I joined and band, and by age twenty one, I was touring the world with KISS and Britannia Row Audio, Pink Floyd’s sound company.

I went on to work as an engineer, and to found a business that restores European cars.  In fact, we have a fine Fiat 500 and a rare Ferrari Mondial at work right now!

When people read that book, they said, “I want to know how you did it!   How did you get a job?  How did you get a girlfriend?  How did you live on your own?”

BE DIFFERENT answers those questions.

At least, I hope it does.  I can’t read Italian, and for all I know, they have swapped my words for a bunch of pornography.  I guess you’ll have to read it and see for yourself.

Before I began writing pornography, I took every way that autism can affect us, and I wrote stories showing how each of those things affected me.  In some cases I show how I minimized my disability.  Other times, I show how I found a gift.  Often, autism provides a mix of both things.  You may have seen that in your own lives, and those around you.

BE DIFFERENT covers many important topics
  • How to make yourself choosable
  • Using pliers to fix a bully problem
  • Getting and keeping a job
  • Emotions and how to understand them
  • The world of sensory sensitivity
  • Finding your gifts and talents.

It’s my guide to making your best life by being who you are – unique and different. 

Obviously there’s more than that.  It is, after all, a complete book.  You’ll have to buy a copy to learn the rest.

I hope you enjoy it.

And I hope to see you in person, as soon as we can work out a return.  Meanwhile, feel free to write me on facebook, or my blog. 

Best wishes and chow

John Elder Robison

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Update On Our Trade School

Here we are, fixing the cars of yesterday, tomorrow.

I’ve gotten quite a bit of interest since announcing our trade school program.

Here’s a bit more info for parents and prospective students:

The school is the result of the shared vision of Tri County School staff and myself.  They have been seeking ways to expand their services for at-risk teens, and I have been looking for ways to help autistic people find jobs.  It seems like a perfect match.

We plan to open in September for the 2013-14 school year, subject to approval of this new campus by the state department of education.  We expect to start by teaching basic auto mechanics, vehicle inspection, detailing and cleanup, and small engine repair.  We hope to add landscape work later on.

The school will be staffed by legitimate, credentialed professionals but I will be there, lurking in the background, offering advice and chunks of fresh meat as needed.  One of the best features of our school is that students will learn amongst real professionals practicing these same trades right next door.  Our staff will visit for lectures and demonstrations and there will be apprenticeship opportunities galore.  We want to create a real “learning from the old masters” environment, which is how the trades have been passed down for centuries.  At the same time, we will accommodate the special needs of our at-risk student population. 

Tri County is a long-established nonprofit private school.  Students are referred there by local school districts, and tuition is generally paid by your local school district and other state agencies. 

Kids in this program would alternate between Tri County’s Easthampton Campus and our new Trade Campus, in the Robison Service complex in Springfield, MA.  For those of you who want to check us out by satellite image, the address is 343 Page Boulevard.  It won’t be necessary to walk from school to school.  We have buses.   We’ve even got housing options, if you are far away but determined.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Seeds Of Our Own Destruction

Weeds are always trouble for farmers and gardeners.  Throughout history, the problem has been addressed three ways.  First there was the organic solution:  Pull up your weeds, or live with them.  Then as we learned about plant science we devised an additional holistic solution: Choose or adjust the soil conditions (ph, nitrogen balance, etc) so that your preferred crop has a natural advantage.  Finally, in the past century, chemical manufacturers devised the aggressive commercial solution:  Spray herbicides and kill what you don’t want.

Ultimately, as ugly as it seemed to some, the poison solution was found to be most effective and it was adopted all over.  Poison really took off with the invention of Roundup, and it went to a whole new level with the development of “Roundup Ready” crops.   These were crops grown from seeds that had been genetically modified to resist the poison.

So farmers could spray their fields with the stuff, and it would kill everything but the crop.  Cool.  Or so they thought.

As efficient as it sounded, there was a public outcry.  Genetically modifying seeds to resist Roundup sounded much the same as modifying an animal strain to resist nerve gas, and then using the gas to kill everything else.  Indeed, the two situations are analogous.  The more people thought about it, the less they liked it.

But it made money.   Farm yields rose, so farmers bought in, hoping no one would look too close.  In the Unites States the farmers were helped by a strong chemical lobby who kept the genetic engineering hidden from public view.  Europe, however, followed a more transparent path.  The result:  over 80% of American corn, soy, and cotton is genetically modified, and we lead the world in GMO plant production.

And thanks to the chemical lobby, most Americans have no idea this is happening.  Other countries either require disclosure or ban GMO food outright.  Some call it Frankenfood.  Scientist defend the practice, saying we have genetically engineered food for centuries with selective breeding.  But earlier "natural" engineering is probably inherently safer, because any combination that results comes from natural cross breeding simply mimics what evolves in nature where GMO scientists introduce targeted modifications which could never have originated in nature, and whose side effects are poorly understood. 

So the rest of the world hasn’t been so quick to embrace our chemical giant’s technology.   How do we know it’s safe, they ask?  People remember Jurassic Park, and wonder if we are creating something similar, but with plants instead of animals.  It looks like that day has come.

Roundup is the most successful herbicide ever devised.   It kills everything in its path, except for the special Roundup Ready plants they have engineered.  Unfortunately, nature has proven to be adaptable and resilient in the face of this manmade challenge.  The weeds have evolved to resist this powerful poison, possibly by integrating the manmade Roundup Ready genetic code into their DNA, and possibly by evolving an equivalent on their own..

Either way, we now have Roundup Ready weeds

This is the same scary situation we see in medicine where the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed and elsewhere has led to antibiotic resistant diseases.  Diseases that were treatable with a course of antibiotics a decade ago have the very real prospect of killing us tomorrow, unless new antibiotics are devised.  That's how it works, all the way up the food chain.   Guns were a great deterrent, when everyone else had swords.  Now that we all have guns, the solution becomes the problem.

 Do you remember the scene at the end of Jurassic Park, where "all the dinosaurs had been killed," but somehow, eggs were hatching?   That happened here, with wheat.  Back in 2001, Monsanto developed a Roundup resistant GMO wheat that they thought would be a big hit.  It wasn’t.  The reason:  The big wheat importing countries in Europe and Asia wanted nothing to do with genetically engineered wheat.   Monsanto quietly dropped the project.  The test crops were killed, and the seeds destroyed.

That was 12 years ago.

Now it’s back

A farmer in Oregon found a patch of wheat growing like a weed outside his field.  So he sprayed it with Roundup.  But it didn’t die.  Puzzled, he sent it to the lab.  The results were shocking.   The wheat contained the GMO trait for Roundup resistance.  And it wasn’t the same wheat Monsanto had tested, years before.  That was a spring planted variety, while last month’s wild-caught wheat is is a winter breed.

We are just beginning to see the terrible price humanity may pay for the over-use of antibiotics.  As antibiotic resistant diseases evolve, we have the real possibility of a return to the Dark Ages, where disease kills millions and we have no medicine to stop it.  There are few new developments in antibiotics, but nature is evolving all the time to fight them.  Who’s winning?  The balance may be about to change.

In the plant world the Roundup Ready notion is the exact same thing.  Now that we see how quickly nature adapts, is it time to rethink the use of GMO techniques and poison?  Or is it too late – the genie is already out of the bottle.

The biggest risk is that our genetic engineering will create something that is inadvertently toxic to plants or animals we need (or ourselves), and we will literally sow the seeds of our own destruction.

Has it happened already?

I don’t want to stop the progress of science, but I do think it’s time for a more open and transparent discussion.  Can we step away from PR and spin to consider the real issues rationally, and act while we still can?  I don’t know.