Wisdom I gleamed from John Elder Robison

Ron Sandison with John Elder Robison

After reading John’s books and hearing him speak I could see him standing right next to me in the AMC lobby asking the same questions.

By Ron Sandison

On February 23rd, I had the pleasure of meeting a New York Times bestelling author, John Elder Robison, who is of my heroes from the autism community for both his boldness and humorous crude stories. Four years ago, I read his memoirLook Me in the Eye. It was the first book I read from an Asperger perspective. I felt like a bobblehead reading Robison’s book, laughing and nodding in agreement with his Asperger’s journey.

In 1982 at age seven, I was diagnosed with autism before Asperger’s was in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Reading John’s book I realized I had many of the characteristics of Asperger’s such as difficulty filtering what I say (not unlike President Donald Trump’s filtering system), repetitive behavior, sensory processing issues and concrete literal thinking. John’s writings inspired me to study Asperger’s and autism. After a year of in-depth research and self-examining, I decided to write A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom.

I enjoyed reading the chapter “A Trickster is Born” from Look Me in the Eye. My favorite prank was John sending his biology teacher, Ursula, a blow-up doll. In writing my book I also used humor to share my personal experiences.

One of my favorite stories took place at a movie theater. While we were dating, my wife Kristen and I would go to the movies at the AMC Forum 30 every Thursday for half-price. As we purchased tickets on November 11, 2010 to Unstoppable, the high-school age clerk said, “Twenty dollars, please!” Since tickets are normally $5 on a Thursday night, I asked, “Did you discontinue the discount deal?”

The clerk smiled and said, “No, today is Veteran’s Day. So it’s holiday rate!” I was enraged and demanded to speak with the manager.

“AMC company policy is every holiday we charge regular price,” the manager said.

“I can prove to you that AMC does not consider Veteran’s Day a holiday!” I said.

I turned and said to the clerk, “Do you receive time-and-a-half holiday pay for Christmas and the 4th of July?”

“Yes.”

“Are you getting holiday pay today for Veteran’s Day?” I asked.

“No,” the clerk replied.

I looked the manager in the eye and said, “If Veteran’s Day is considered by AMC executives to be a holiday, why are your employees not receiving holiday pay?”

The manager was speechless. The theater lobby was packed.

“How many veterans are here?” I shouted.

Two veterans approached me.

“Thanks so much for risking your lives for our country and protecting our freedom. I just wanted to let you guys know that AMC is charging you double price today to show its patriotism!” I said.

These veterans were furious that AMC would charge them the higher holiday rate.

The manager gave us free gift cards for popcorn and drinks. The general population would just accept the fact that AMC is charging holiday rate on a Thursday. Not someone with autism and Asperger’s. After reading John’s books and hearing him speak I could see him standing right next to me in the AMC lobby asking the same questions.

John’s message is about neurodiversity.

“Most neurotypical people lie. We with autism say what everyone else in the room is thinking but afraid to say. My grandparents always said, ‘Boy you have the manners of a farm animal,”’ Robison shared.

During question and answer time, a concerned mom asked, “My son has zero ability to filter what he says. When we are at the supermarket, he will yell at the cashier, ‘You’re taking too long and need to be fired!’ What should I do?”’

John had the perfect response, “Was the cashier slow?”

He provided the mom with this practical advice, “If what your son says will not get him bullied or shot—don’t fret it. Autism makes us honest.”

One cool fact I learned from meeting John was his interest in early American clergy and autism. Through his research he concluded many theologians in the American church were high-functioning autistic and spent their time alone studying the sacred texts. As a theologian with autism I found this fascinating.

John’s message was motivating and inspired me to be bold and proud to be autistic.

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Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website Spectrum Inclusion or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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Book Review of John Elder Robison’s Raising Cubby.

1 Comment

  • Claudia Mazzucco says:

    In this article, J. E. Robison says, “Most neurotypical people lie.”

    I’d define this line as a stereotype. And Robison offered no evidence that such belief is actually true.

    “We with autism say what everyone else in the room is thinking but afraid to say.”

    How Robison could possibly know what everyone else in the room is thinking but is afraid to say? How could he figure out whether the other person in the room is afraid to say something?

    How does he know about everyone else in the room in order to attribute feelings, motives and intentions?

    Regarding the mother’s concern about her son’s zero ability to filter what he says,” I’d have acted very differently.

    I’d have disciplined my boy for being so rude and lacking of compassion.

    Explain to him that he should grow to be a gentleman.

    I like very much the boy who is gently and considerate toward others, especially cashiers who got so little compliment in their daily lives, being sometimes the victims of upset costumers.

    A kind who does not want to wait in line needs discipline.

    Autism does not make us honest. It can make us very lonely and isolated if we make a habit of such a behavior.

    In an effort to distinguish fundamentalists from their evangelical kin, Church historian George Marsden famously defined a fundamentalist as “an evangelical who is angry about something.”

    People with a diagnosis of Asperger’s are individuals who are angry (or deeply hurt) about something. What sets them off is different in each case, and it should be figured out in private (not in the social media).

    Given the central role played by the cultural context in a person’s question of identity, it is tempting to see John Elder Robison’s “autism” as a struggle for survival in the middle of a deeply divided modern culture. He could not find himself and invented his own sense of identity from the writings of an Austrian pediatrician (Dr. Hans Asperger) who he has never met.

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