To Defy the Human Condition

5 06 2010

I recently read a book by John Elder Robinson, the older brother of memoirist, Augusten Burroughs; which centered on his experiences growing up with Asperger syndrome. For those of you that are unfamiliar, this syndrome is considered an ‘autism-spectrum’ disorder, which basically means it’s a mild form of Autism. Some shared ‘symptoms’ include issues with social interaction, restrictive (and often very focused) or repetitive interests or behaviors, and speech/language issues. While all of these are excellent subject matters to discuss, I’m going to focus on social interaction – specifically lack of empathy and social isolation.

Robinson wrote that as a child he often didn’t understand how to react in social situations. Namely, an experience of a neighbor telling his mother something tragic, but otherwise unconnected to anyone involved. (I believe the situation was “My neighbor came over and told my mother about how her sister’s friend’s child died in a car accident.”) While his mother reacted, as I would guess most people do, with remorse and sullenness; John Elder reacted with laughter. This immediately caused the neighbor to become angered, as I feel most people would be in that situation. But he was laughing at the situation, not the details.

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