John Elder Robison (born August 13, 1957) is the author of the 2007 memoir Look Me in the Eye, detailing his life with undiagnosed Asperger syndrome and savant abilities, and of three other books. Robison has had several careers. In the 1970s, he worked as an engineer in the music business where he is best known for creating the signature special effects guitars played by the band KISS. In the 1980s, Robison worked for electronics manufacturers Milton Bradley Company (electronic games), Simplex (fire alarms and building control), and ISOREG (power conditioning systems). Robison wrote his first book at age 49.
Robison was born in Athens, Georgia, while his parents were attending the University of Georgia. He is the son of poet Margaret Robison and John G. Robison (1935–2005), former head of the philosophy department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Robison dropped out of high school.
He married three times and has one son (Jack Robison a.k.a. Cubby).
He is the elder brother of memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who also wrote about his childhood in the memoir Running with Scissors.
He was diagnosed with Asperger's at 40.
In 2011, Robison was featured on an episode of Ingenious Minds, which discussed some of the transcranial magnetic stimulation experiments he underwent to improve his social cognition.
In Look Me in the Eye, Robison describes growing up with no diagnosis of his autism, but aware that he was different, and how he was first diagnosed by a therapist friend when he was 40 years old. After writing that book, Robison became active in the planning of autism research and in autism advocacy.
Robison is also the author of Be Different (2011), a how-to guide for grown-ups with autism; Raising Cubby (2013), the story of raising his autistic son; and Switched On (2016), which tells the story of his participation as a research subject in brain studies using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.
Robison taught himself about electric circuits and sound waves. He used his self-taught knowledge to design guitars for the rock band KISS and toys for Milton Bradley.
Robison runs a successful car specialty shop. He is the founder of J.E. Robison Service Co., Inc. in Springfield, Mass. Robison Service is an authorized Bosch Car Service Center that specializes in high-end European automobile service and restoration. Robison Service is also part of the Springfield Automotive Complex, which is also home to the TCS Auto Program, a licensed special education high school that teaches life skills in the context of a working commercial auto complex. The school is a partnership of Robison and Tri County Schools, a part of Northeast Center for Youth and Families of Easthampton, Mass.
Robison is active in the autism rights movement. He volunteered at Autism Speaks as a member of their treatment and advisory boards, saying that he was interested in helping remediate the disabling aspects of autism. He resigned in 2013 following an op-ed released by Suzanne Wright, a co-founder of Autism Speaks. Robison and other members of the autism community criticized Wright for proclaiming that families affected by autism lived in "despair" and in "fear of the future". Robison has said that "disabilities are problems, but that doesn’t mean that autism is a problem."
Since 2012, Robison has been the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Robison is also co-chair of the campus neurodiversity committee, which is housed in the president's office of diversity. Robison co-teaches neurodiversity courses at the Williamsburg and Washington, D.C. campuses.
Since 2012, Robison has served as a member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The committee is responsible for producing the Strategic Plan for Autism for the federal government, and the Annual Summary of Advances in Autism Research. The committee reports to the secretary of Health and Human Services, who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) autism programs. The committee also coordinates autism efforts with other government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Education and the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Within the IACC and other government committees, Robison is known for taking the position that people with autism should have the lead voice in defining autism research goals.
Robison in 2016 stated that low-functioning autism does not preclude a person from ever choosing where he/she wanted to live. To get a second opinion, author Amy S.F. Lutz invited Robison to meet her low-functioning son, Jonah, and Robison accepted the invitation. Robison was initially defensive, but later said “No, I can’t talk to Jonah about where he wants to live… I don’t feel like I have insight to offer about what he wants in the future.”