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Switched on: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  847 Ratings  ·  161 Reviews
An extraordinary memoir about the cutting-edge brain therapy that dramatically changed the life and mind of John Elder Robison, the" New York Times" bestselling author of "Look Me in the Eye"
"Imagine spending the first forty years of your life in darkness, blind to the emotions and social signals of other people. Then imagine that someone suddenly switches the lights on.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 7th 2017 by Spiegel & Grau (first published March 22nd 2016)
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Paul McNeil Well, it's something I'm planning to use in a novel I'm writing (but for the opposite reason- someone needs to have their empathy/emotions temporarily…moreWell, it's something I'm planning to use in a novel I'm writing (but for the opposite reason- someone needs to have their empathy/emotions temporarily turned off).(less)
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J.L.   Sutton
I wanted to like John Elder Robison's Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening more than I actually did. The beginning was slow going. To me, it sometimes felt like I was reading a grocery list rather than a story (and maybe that was part of the point). It was more interesting when the author discusses being 'switched on.' Even 50 years after Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algnernon, this being switched on or waking up is a scary concept when it comes with the possibility of this ...more
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
“All we had were a TMS machine, some ideas, a few volunteers, and a lot of hope.”

Author John Elder Robison has Asberger’s, a form of autism. He and his brother (Augustin Burrows, author of Running with Scissors) were raised by a mother with mental illness and by a father who drank and became violent. John is a master in engineering technologies, his past jobs included creating electronic toys/games, some of the first video games and talking toys for Milton Bradley, and creating spectacular spec
Mar 22, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is an anecdotal account of the author's experience of taking TMS (transcranal magnetic stimulation), as an experimental treatment for autism (he'll often use the word Asperger instead of 'autism'). The author is a good narrator, and tells his personnel experiences in a very likable manner.

Overall, I think I could have gotten what I wanted out of the book by reading a magazine length article on the merits and wizardry on TMS instead. I had wondered about the efficacy of the procedure be
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robison's story is intriguing. It has often been the subject of my thoughts since I finished the book. It's deeply troubling and incredibly hopeful. If I could change the way my brain works, if I could choose to be more "normal", would I? Robison answered yes, yes to change his brain, and yes to fit in better with others, yes to gain emotional insight he didn't otherwise have. The consequences are beautiful and more than a little scary.

As an adult, Robison was diagnosed as being on the autism sp
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I remember reading Agustin Burrows book, Running With Scissors and thinking, "Wow, this family is even crazier than mine!" Being curious about the crazy, I eagerly picked up his brother, John Elder Robison's book, Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awaking.
Late in life Robinson was diagnosed with Aspergers, a syndrome on the autism spectrum, which he saw as an explanation of both his giftedness and many challenges. Switched On tells of his emotional state before, during and af
Lisa Wright
At the age of 50, John Elder Robison participates in a research study on the effects of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) on adults with autism. Hours later, he suddenly feels . . . everything! Most, but not all, of the effects fade, but his life has been permanently changed. This is a real-life Flowers for Algernon or Awakenings but with less tragic results. It blew my mind!
Jun 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing memoir by a western Massachusetts author that I have heard speak three times! How do brains work and how can science change our behavior? Gives me a lot to think about!
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, science, autism
This is one of those cases where I'm not sure if the fault lies in me or the book.

This isn't to say that Robinson is a bad writer. Quite to the contrary, he has a clear and vivid writing style that isn't pretentious. He is able to convey a very complicated issue with so many scientific and emotional nuances with clarity and sensitivity. Switched On made me wish that I had read his memoir, Look Me in the Eye first. (I am certainly planning on reading that one regardless.)

Here's the thing: I foun
Sep 11, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Switched On Finished this one a couple of days ago and I keep forgetting to review it--probably because I transitioned right into listening to Running With Scissors.  Augusten Burroughs is John Elder Robison's little brother.  I had no idea!
Anyway, Robison was not diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome until he was 40 years old.  He has written a few other books about his experiences growing up with undiagnosed autism, raising an autistic son, and "being different," and I am definitely curious abou
Alice Lemon
I really wasn't sure what to expect from this book when I picked it up, and I have to admit that the beginning did not immediately convince me that it would be worth finishing. However, I ended up finding the book quite worth listening to.

Reading about Robison's experiences with autism was kind of strange, because his experience was quite different from mine, but also probably more typical. I really have been incredibly lucky to have found as many close friends (many of them also autistic) as I
Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though I did speed reading on much of the last quarter of the book, the entire concept here begs you to pay attention. There are so many fascinating ethical questions in this book.

A man with high functioning Aspergers signs up for a study where specific parts of the brain would be stimulated by transcranial magnetic stimulation TMS. Zapped. Here's a guy who is gifted in his work with technology, electronics, and cars, but seriously different in his expression and reading of human emotions.
Don Gorman
( 2 1/2) I read this book because I was so enamored with one of Robison's earlier works, Look Me in the Eye. I picked that one up becasue I have a grandchild with Aspergers Syndrone, which Robison also suffers from. This story is fascinating, Robison's recount of his testing, then a fledgling research effort, of magnetic impulse treatments on the brain. How it affected him, how he recalls it and the fallout along the way make for a very interesting tale. It gets a little too technical and medica ...more
I didn't know what this book was about when I started reading it. I was hooked after the first chapter. In summary, it is the story of an old autistic person that is offered the opportunity to receive an experimental treatment to treat autism. The treatment is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). TMS stimulates parts of the brain (with electromagnetism) that regularly do not work "normally" with autistic people and also with people with depression. It is interesting to see how brain r ...more
An incredible reminder of how much and yet how little is known about the human brain. After participating in a research study that targets and activates very small and specific parts of the brain, the author, himself on the autism spectrum, is able to read the emotions of others in ways he'd never been able to do before. It profoundly changes his life, mostly for the better but not completely. Great mix of neuroscience and personal experience; author does a great job describing and explaining bo ...more
Jill Hanson carrell
I really enjoyed this author's first memoir, "Look me in the eye", because it gave a great insight into the world of having asperger's. Also, I adore his brother's books (Augusten Burroughs) so I figured that this was a good bet. It was fascinating! This book recounts his experiences in a trial where transcranial magnetic stimulation was used to try to improve some of the negative traits associated with aspergers. Amazing stuff. He includes lots of information/history on neurologic studies of th ...more
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book offers an amazing look at the qualitative side of neuroscience research. Robison (who in his previous books gave a look at the autism spectrum from the inside) relates his experience participating in one of the early studies of TMS, a brain therapy, and autism. Not only does he bring the reader along for the journey, he reflects on what the experience meant to him even years after the study concluded, looking at both its positives and negatives with a clear eye and deep understanding.
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-books
John Elder Robison wrote about his life with Asperger's in LOOK ME IN THE EYE. His latest book is a fascinating account of his participation in experiments with TMS - Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Robison has remarkable self-awareness and gives vivid descriptions of the changes in his personality that came about from the TMS sessions. He also covers the ethical and philosophical issues. If TMS gives a person better social skills but robs him of his genius-level technical abilities, is that ...more
May 26, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating account of the author's experience as a study case in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to see if it "switches on" the ability to recognize social cues in people on the autism spectrum. Amazing results detailed by the articulate John Elder Robeson who also wrote "Look Me in the Eye" after he was diagnosed with Asperger's at the age of 40. The only downside for me was lots of space allocated to his fascination with the science of how TMS works. Very Aspergian;-)
Denise Spicer
This almost 300 page memoir discussed the author’s experimental neurological treatment for the autism that was diagnosed when he was 40 years of age. This is a personal account of his life and relationships and how treatment affected him. There is some discussion of the science behind it but no Index or End Notes and only a brief final segment on “Findings and Further Reading”. The book was too lengthy and personal to be helpful as a general discussion of autism, causes, treatments.
Erin Isgett
3.5 stars. Extremely interesting personal account from Robison about TMS and its effect on the autistic brain. I found my mind wandering during the detailed technical and scientific descriptions, but that's probably more my fault than his :) I was fascinated to read about his experiences, and I admire him and appreciate the work he does and the books he writes.
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a super fascinating book. It takes some attention to follow the medical lingo, but the author presents it in as simple terms as possible. There are many thought provoking issues that arise in this book as the author undergoes experimental treatment for Asperger's. A must read for anybody who has a connection with the autistic community.
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Although there were some interesting insights in this book it was way too long and rambling. I had to force myself to finish the book.
John Ronald
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very eye-opening account, read by the author, about receiving highly experimental brain stimulation by medical technology, and his personal experience with its after-effects.

Though the author had high hopes about the outcome, he is painfully honest in admitting it came as a rather mixed blessing. It granted him a heightened level of emotional empathy he had never before experienced in his life, but it also made him painfully aware of his wife's crushing clinical depression in a visceral way, and
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Elder Robison has written four books on autism or Asperger's. The first was Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, about his painful life with Asperger’s syndrome. This book, Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening was published almost nine years later and discussed his experiences with TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation. He received TMS, an non-invasive method of brain stimulation, as part of a study at Harvard University. TMS is often used with people wi ...more
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
John Elder Robison’s account of his participation in a series of brain stimulations as an experimental treatment for autism is page-turning. After the first session, Robison turns on his music and suddenly he is transported into the emotion of the songs, something that he had never truly felt before or cared about. While this intense effect of the therapy fades by the next morning, Robison reports that, seven years after the treatment, he is still able to feel emotions (from songs or stories or ...more
Donna Stone
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review also appears on my site.

In a quest for emotional intelligence, John Elder Robison agreed to allow neuroscientists to experiment on his brain. In this memoir that reminds one of Flowers for Algernon, Robison tells us about his experience with TMS, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and the resulting effects on his emotions and life.

Imagine your world being turned upside down by a sudden awareness that things are not at all the way you thought they were. Scales drop from y
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
He lived a life full on insecurities and doubt. But then TransCranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) changed all that by opening him up to feel the wild swings of emotion that he had not felt before. The results faded over time, but he was a changed person.

"It has always bothered me that many people, doctors included, tend to view anything that deviates from the typical as being abnormal or broken. The common medical perception f synesthesia illustrates this perfectly. Doctors don't generally say, "
Rob Hocking
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is another book that I devoured over the course of a couple of days. Normally, when we think about our personalities, we imagine that they are something we get to choose - I am the way I am because I choose to be this way. However, we also know empirically that if a person's brain is changed (by an accident, for example), then their personality can change can change as well. A person experiencing this kind of change (if it is bad) can feel helpless, remembering their past self, but no longe ...more
The story itself was interesting, but for me, too much technical information that I was not interested in. I totally get that it was necessary to include this information in order to get a fully informed look at what the study entailed, but it just wasn't an area of information that interests me. I found it hard to not skip these sections and move more to the experiences and outcomes that John Robison experienced.
This is totally personal because the other members of my book discussion seemed to
Ronan O'Driscoll
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Robison's book is an account of the changes in his life as an autistic adult (he describes himself as on the Aspergers side of the spectrum) when he bravely undergoes experimental therapy to remediate his condition. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation does change his life but in a number of surprising ways. The courage of the author in undergoing this new technique is remarkable but so is the impact on those around him. His newfound emotional intelligence causes him to ultimately divorce his ...more
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I was born in rural Georgia, where my dad worked as a country preacher. I was kind of a misfit growing up. In fact, the bigger I got, the more misfit I became. At age 8, I got a little brother, and he was a misfit too. I dropped out of school in 10th grade, and never looked back. My brother dropped out a few years later, following in my footsteps.

I've had a number of careers . . . I designed sound

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“It has always bothered me that many people, doctors included, tend to view anything that deviates from the typical as being abnormal or broken.” 2 likes
“There’s this thing called the competence-deviance hypothesis,” she explained. “It says that the more competent an individual is in his field—the more respected he is in the community—the more his eccentric behavior will be tolerated by others. “But the opposite is true for young people, because they have not done anything to earn respect in a community. So when they do weird things they are treated like dangerous animals and hustled into cages. It seems unfair when older, respectable members of the community do stuff that’s even stranger and people just shake their heads and smile at their eccentricity.” I” 0 likes
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