An extraordinary memoir about the cutting-edge brain therapy that dramatically changed the life and mind of John Elder Robison, the New York Times best-selling author of Look Me in the Eye.
Imagine spending the first 40 years of your life in darkness, blind to the emotions and social signals of other people. Then imagine that someone suddenly switches the lights on.
John Elder Robison’s best-selling memoir, Look Me in the Eye, is one of the most beloved accounts of life with autism. In Switched On, Robison shares the second part of his journey, pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery as he undergoes an experimental brain therapy known as TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation. TMS drastically changes Robison’s life. After 40 years of feeling like a social misfit – either misreading other people’s emotions or missing them completely and accepting this as his fate – Robison can suddenly sense a powerful range of emotion in others as a result of the treatments: “It was as if I’d been experiencing the world in black and white all my life, and suddenly I could see everything – and particularly other people – in brilliant, beautiful color.” The ability to connect emotionally with others for the first time brings Robison a kind of joy he has never known.
And yet, Robison’s newfound insight has very real downsides. As the emotional ground shifts beneath his feet, he must find a way to move forward without losing sight of who he is, what he values, and all he has worked so hard for. Robison is our guinea pig and our guide, bravely leading us on an adventure that holds the key to new ways of understanding the mysteries of the human brain. In this real-life Flowers for Algernon, he grapples with a trade-off – the very real possibility that choosing to diminish his disability might also mean sacrificing his unique gifts and even some of his closest relationships.
Switched On is a fascinating and intimate window into what it means to be neurologically different and what happens when the world as you know it is upended overnight.
John Elder Robison, Alvaro Pascual-Leon – introduction, Marcel Just – afterword