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Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening Hardcover – March 22, 2016
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“Switched On is an eye-opening book with a radical message. . . . The transformations [John Elder Robison] undergoes throughout the book are astonishing—as foreign and overwhelming as if he woke up one morning with the visual range of a bee or the auditory prowess of a bat.”—The New York Times
“Astonishing, brave . . . Switched On reads like a medical thriller and keeps you wondering what will happen next. . . . [Robison] takes readers for a ride through the thorny thickets of neuroscience and leaves us wanting more. He is deft at explaining difficult concepts and doesn’t shy from asking hard questions. This is a truly unusual memoir—both poignant and scientifically important.”—The Washington Post
“Fascinating for its insights into Asperger’s and research, this engrossing record will make readers reexamine their preconceptions about this syndrome and the future of brain manipulation.”—Booklist
“Like books by Andrew Solomon and Oliver Sacks, Switched On offers an opportunity to consider mental processes through a combination of powerful narrative and informative medical context. Readers can put their hands, for a moment, on the mystery that is the brain.”—BookPage
“A fascinating companion to the previous memoirs by this masterful storyteller.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Switched On is a mind-blowing book that will force you to ask deep questions about what is important in life. Would normalizing the brains of those who think differently reduce their motivation for great achievement?”—Temple Grandin, author of The Autistic Brain
“John Elder Robison is an extraordinary guide, carefully elucidating the cutting-edge science behind this revolutionary new brain therapy, TMS, alongside the compelling story of the impact it has on his relationships, his thinking and emotions, and indeed his very identity. At the heart of Switched On are fundamental questions of who we are, of where our identity resides, of difference and disability and free will, which are brought into sharp focus by Robison’s lived experience.”—Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Effect
“In this fascinating book John Elder Robison raises deep questions: What does TMS do to the brain? Will it permanently change his experience of music, his emotions, and his ability to read faces? And if autism involves disability as well as talent, if we alter the different wiring in an autistic brain, is this a good thing? Robison’s honest, brilliant, and very personal account helps us understand the perspective of someone living with autism.”—Simon Baron-Cohen, professor, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University
“In Switched On, John Robison has written a remarkable, engaging, and moving story. . . . His astonishing story of transformation, of overcoming disability and deriving benefit from an experimental intervention that completely changed his life, is rife with inspiring lessons for each of us. It is a strikingly moving personal narrative about the nature of emotion, and about the opportunities afforded us when we seek to understand neurological difference.”—Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, from the foreword
About the Author
John Elder Robison is a world-recognized authority on life with autism, and the New York Times bestselling author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby. Robison is the neurodiversity scholar in residence at the College of William & Mary, and he serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which produces the U.S. government’s strategic plan for autism spectrum disorder research. A machine aficionado and avid photographer, Robison lives with his family in Amherst, Massachusetts.
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When we talk about curing autism we should consider the potentially devastating impact. It's not necessarily about whether the result is a net improvement or a let loss, but rather whether the persons before and after the treatment are similar enough to be considered the same person or not.
John's treatment was part of a study and in such a study the researchers try to eliminate as many confounding factors as possible. So whatever else we know about the treatment, we know it was extremely controlled and limited. In a clinical setting with more intensive TMS combined with other treatments the result might be someone who is for all practical purposes a completely different person. We expect dramatic personality changes after disfiguring trauma or disease, and allow for the consequences to be negative. But when we choose a treatment intended to produce a "good" result, negative impacts unintended and generally unanticipated. We see this all the time now with people whose lives fall apart after massive weight loss. Changing cognitive and personality traits is potentially even more impactful than changing outward appearance.
Consider a TMS treatment in which the person before treatment was lovable but impaired and the person after the treatment was nasty but functional. Would that be considered a success? Or would the treatments continue in hopes of achieving both function and agreeable temperament? After all, once the original person is irrevocably gone why not keep discarding iterations until you get one you like? I'm not suggesting we stop researching autism or even give up altogether on trying to cure it. But we do need to consider where we impose boundaries. At what point do we stop and say that just because we can doesn't mean we should? John's story in Switched On hints that those boundaries are not far off, and indeed he and his research team may have pushed them just a little already.
John's first book Look Me In The Eye introduces readers to the autistic child and teen who grew up to be John Elder Robison. Switched On explores the current research into treatment and raises some thorny ethical questions that anyone wishing for or working toward a cure needs to consider. John's books are always entertaining (at least to me, a fellow autistic) and at times excruciatingly candid so they are enjoyable as memoirs. This one is significant as a case study for medical ethicists which is what cinches my 5-star rating.
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