I finished Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian almost a month ago, but I’ve been thinking about it all this time, trying to decide what to write. Robison’s latest book is as well-written and entertaining as his first book, Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger's. I think I’ve hesitated to write about Be Different because I see so much of myself in the anecdotes. I see more of my son, which makes sense, as he’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s, but there’s a lot of me in there, too. Even having acknowledged several months ago that I have some Aspie tendencies, it’s still a little weird to see that many similarities. I’m what Robison calls a “Proto-Aspergian”, someone with a few Aspie traits, but isn’t completely Aspergian (Robison’s name for Aspies). Neurotypicals are “Nypicals”.
I don’t usually read other reviews before I write a review (and this isn’t really a review), but as I said before, I was at a loss for what to say. Until I saw a reviewer who had written that he didn’t finish the book because it was written just for Aspergians and their families, and that the advice seemed simplistic.
Honestly, I think everyone should read this book. I guess it’s pretty, well, simplistic, but I think if people would take the time to understand a little about others who aren’t like them, differences wouldn’t seem so scary or bad. If you’re a teacher or in any kind of profession where you’re around a lot of kids, reading this book will help you understand that not all those “bad” kids are bad. (Kids rarely are, but that’s for another post.) For those with friends or family members with Asperger’s, it really does help to read things written by an Aspergian. For Aspie kids, while they may realize that there is something different about them, they don’t really understand all the ways in which they think differently than Nypicals. How can they? It’s all they’ve ever known. That’s just the way things are for them. So hearing it from someone who is able to articulate it is helpful.
On a side note, Robison writes a lot about music, and I’m not a musician, but I think both his books would be enjoyed by musicians. (He used to design exploding guitars for KISS, in case you didn’t know.)
As for the reviewer’s claim that the book’s advice is simplistic, all I can say is that he obviously isn’t close to anyone with Asperger’s. If he were, he would know that, in some situations, Aspies really do need basic advice that sounds intuitive to Nypicals. The example the review gives is, “Manners are important even if they don't make sense. Read Emily Post.” That may sound ridiculous to many, but it makes perfect sense to me in relation to myself and my son. I think if you’re a Nypical reading the book, you can learn something if you keep in mind that the book was written mainly for other Aspergians.
You don’t have to read Look Me In the Eye first to understand Be Different, but I think it adds a perspective to the book that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. And reading in Be Different about John Elder teasing his younger brother wouldn’t be quite as funny without knowing all the tricks John Elder played on him when they were young… and knowing that even after all this time, he’s still falling for it.