Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: Look Into My Eyes

A few weeks ago, British author Dan Jones contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing the recently released second edition of his book Look Into My Eyes. In his email, he explained that he had written an autobiography last year describing growing up with Asperger’s syndrome. In the second edition, he decided to include helpful tips based upon his experiences as well as a chapter written by his wife explaining what it’s like to be married to someone with Asperger’s. Since I am fascinated to learn more about the perspective of those on the autism spectrum, I was pleased to accept Dan’s offer to share his book with me and to share my impressions of his writing.

Now in his late 30’s, Dan Jones was not diagnosed with Asperger’s until he was a young adult. After being diagnosed, he has worked with children of all ages on the autism spectrum and their families. Because of his experience with having Asperger’s and his ability to articulate his experiences, he is able to help children with autism and their families so that they can better understand traits commonly found in autism. He explains that the purpose of writing his book is to give hope to parents of children with Asperger’s syndrome and to people with Asperger’s syndrome. Moreover, he finds that writing helps him understand himself better. For him, writing is ideal because he can learn new things, share knowledge, and spend time alone––all of which are important to him.

While the book is primarily organized chronologically, going from his early childhood to adulthood, at times he repeats ideas and seems to ramble from one idea to another. He himself recognizes this quality, noting that his mind works this way. Consequently, his writing allows the reader to see how the mind works in Asperger’s syndrome. For the neuro-typical reader, his writing has a conversational feel that often flows in a stream of consciousness, and the movement from one idea to another is quite interesting. While he does repeat certain concepts throughout the book, he ties these ideas to various stages in his life and explains their significance clearly. Having lived with a child on the autism spectrum, I found these repeated references familiar and understood Dan’s need to make points evident through repetition. Furthermore, I was amazed by how detailed his descriptions are in relating incidents from his childhood, making them quite vivid for the reader.

Throughout the book, Dan describes the difficulties of dealing with sensory overload and social skills, which are common obstacles in autism. For example, he clearly explains the overwhelming sensory issues caused by the irritation of clothes, “busy noises,” “uncomfortably bright” sights, and “so much to try to focus on and keep track of.” As a child, he preferred adults to peers, who bullied him. He notes that he gravitates toward those who share interests with him, but he finds making friends difficult. He states, “I have never been good at making and keeping friends because I have no interest in making and keeping friends.” Moreover, he describes that as a child, “I was happy to sit alone in a corner somewhere; I didn’t feel a need to seek out the company of others.” As a parent, I have wondered whether Alex feels lonely not having peer friends, but if he shares Dan’s perspective, he may not care about having friends and may prefer his own company anyway.

In reading Dan’s description of his childhood, I found many similarities between him and Alex. For example, he describes himself as mostly calm and quiet, but he would get upset when plans were changed; I would describe Alex in the same way. Also, like Alex, he didn’t care whether he won or lost games; he simply wanted to do his best and stick to the rules. In addition, Dan describes enjoying one of Alex’s favorite things to do: imitating sounds and voices. Like Alex, he explains that he didn’t realize imitating people can be offensive, and he must work at not copying how people speak. Another similarity they share is a love for learning as well as learning to read at an early age and preferring nonfiction to fiction. I especially appreciated Dan’s explanation of his preference for nonfiction. He explains that he doesn’t see the point of reading something that is not real. Yet another likeness is that Dan describes himself as a good eater, which Alex is, too. However, I found Dan’s reasoning for being a good eater surprising. He explains that eating gives him something to do when others are around, and he doesn’t have to interact with them. In contrast, I think that Alex’s love of eating is not just a way to avoid social interaction; he seems to enjoy the act of devouring food, as well.

A major focus of the book is hypnosis, one of Dan’s main interests and the inspiration for the title of the book. When he was thirteen, he saw a television show about hypnosis and began reading books on the topic. He states, “I thought hypnosis might be the ultimate way of controlling the world around me so that people left me alone when I wanted to be left alone, and so that I didn’t have to do things I didn’t want to do.” Although he discovered that hypnosis didn’t give him that control, he found that it helped develop his social skills. He explains that hypnosis requires observation, copying other people's behavior, and communication skills, all of which improved his rapport with others. In addition, he was able to develop eye contact, which is often difficult for people with autism, learning to look through and past people when he could not look directly at them.

In this second edition of the book, he has included a chapter written by his wife, Abbie, whom he credits with helping him make positive changes, by encouraging him to be more emotional and to socialize with others. She describes dealing with his bluntness and his obsessions, but notes that they have built a strong relationship. This second edition also offers comprehensive tips and strategies for people with Asperger’s as well as their families, friends, and teachers. He emphasizes the need for developing social skills and using relaxation techniques and offers practical tips for coping with daily life. Moreover, he explains that people with Asperger’s need routines, structure, consistency, and support. In addition, he encourages people with Asperger’s to communicate their needs, such as asking for help.

Dan Jones’ second edition of Look Into My Eyes not only provides practical advice for people with Asperger’s syndrome, but also allows others a glimpse into the amazing mind of someone on the autism spectrum. While the reader may be boggled at times by the vivid imagery and details Dan Jones recollects from his life, one sees how brilliant, indeed, that mind truly is. Moreover, one can’t help but admire and appreciate the candor the author willingly provides in sharing his experiences in hopes of helping others. As we look into Dan’s eyes, we hope that we might see more clearly what is behind the eyes of those children on the autism spectrum who bless our lives with their unique perspective.

“The Lord replied, ‘Look around at the nations, look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” Habakkuk 1:5

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