I read this book shortly after reading Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin, and my first impression was how lackluster this seemed by comparison. Grandin’s book was absolutely fascinating, and I learned a lot from it. The first few chapters of Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian, by John Elder Robison, were mildly interesting, but no more than that.
As I continued, though, Robison started to cover material that was new to me. I already know about how people with Asperger Syndrome, and more generally people with any autism spectrum disorder, tend to have particular routines and behaviors that are important to them, while paying little if any attention to the social conventions followed by society at large. The chapters on learning manners as an adult were of some interest because I had to also, though for different reasons. When Robison got into emotions and mirror neurons, however, I really got interested.
People with Asperger’s tend to appear unemotional to other people, both because they do not display the same emotional responses we are accustomed to, and because they tend to approach situations from a strictly logical perspective. What Robison explains, however, is that he feels all the same emotions, he just doesn’t understand what other people are feeling, or know how to express emotions the way most people do.