Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby ebooks on sale for $1.99 each!!

Last week, I reduced the price of the NYTimes bestselling LOOK ME IN THE EYE, BE DIFFERENT, and RAISING CUBBY ebooks to just $1.99 in honor of world autism acceptance. I thank all of you who've supported my writing; it means more than I can say. But all good things must end, and the sale on my books ends this weekend . . . .

If you want copies of these ebooks I urge you to grab your copies now, and tell your friends. This is the only time Random House has ever put them on sale at this low level.

If you've read and enjoyed my books please leave a review on Goodread, Amazon, or B&N. We authors live and die by those reviews, and we need your support!

You can find them all through the LMITE link below. They are on all the major ebook platforms including B&N Nook, iTunes, and Amazon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I am sad to announce the death of my son's mother and my former wife, Mary L Robison

Thanks to all of you for your love and support throughout my former wife and Cubby's mother Mary Robison 's recent illness. She died peacefully with Cubby holding her hand yesterday afternoon at Mass General Hospital in Boston.

I know many of you were following her on Facebook and there were more visitors than I could count this past month in Boston. She had friends everywhere, and I don't know how to reach all of then (you).  Consequently, I would like to share the memorial arrangements with you here.

A Mass will be held on Friday March 28, 2014 at 10:00 AM at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel at the Newman Center, UMASS Amherst, with Fr. Gary Daley, Common Director officiating, followed by a reception in the Quigley Room at the same location.

This is the church where she was married and where Cubby was christened, and the Quigley Room is named for the late Fr. Quigley, the priest who was a friend to us in those years long ago.

A private burial will be in West Cemetery, Granby. There are no calling hours.

In lieu of flowers Mary asks that you make a donation in her name to the Dr Mary L Robison scholarship endowment at the University of Massachusetts. Look below for details on that, or bring a check made out to UMASS Amherst to the service. I hope to see you Friday for one last goodbye and a celebration of her life after.

If you can't come to the service and want to make a donation in her name, go to the Umass Giving page below, and do the following.

In the designation box choose "college of social behavioral sciences"

In options for your gift, choose "I want to dedicate this gift" and enter "Dr Mary L Robison anthropology scholarship endowment"

You can give whatever you choose, and your contribution is fully tax deductible. Just be sure to dedicate it for her so her fund gets credit. Her fund needs to gather $28000 to become a permanent endowment and I'm committed to making that happen, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help.

Goodbye to Little Bear. We are all so sad. I so wish she was still here with us

Her formal obituary is below.

Mary Lee Trompke Robison, Ph.D.  died March 24, 2014, from complications of leukemia at Mass General Hospital in Boston.  She was born in Holyoke on December 17, 1957, to Marjorie Trompke Graham and Edward Trompke. Mary attended Granby elementary schools and graduated from Amherst Regional High School. She received her AA from Holyoke Community College, in addition to a BA, MA, and Ph.D. from UMass Amherst.  

Mary did field work for her master’s thesis at Historic Deerfield and for her doctoral dissertation at Museo Na Bolom in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico. She was formerly married to John Elder Robison of Amherst, with whom she had one son, Jack. 

Mary was an inventor, building specialty electronics for rock bands including Kiss and Pink Floyd. She was a founder of the science fiction convention Arisia, where she showcased her abilities as an avid costumer and seamstress. A born educator, she was a founding member of the Western Massachusetts hacker space movement and taught at UMass Amherst, Holyoke Community College, Salter College, and the Springfield Renaissance School. She enjoyed trivia and was a successful contestant on "Who wants to be a Millionaire?” in 2005. 

She is survived by her beloved son, Jack Robison, her mother, Marjorie Graham of Pace, FL, sister, Karen Trompke of Pensacola, FL, brother Edward Trompke of Lake Oswego, Oregon, and many cousins, friends, and former students.  Mary climbed pyramids, read a library's worth of books, and was dearly loved by friends and family. She will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Monarch Institute in Houston, Texas

A few days ago I had the privilege of visiting Monarch Institute in Houston Texas, a magical place for kids with neurological differences.  I’ve written about Monarch School before; the Institute is an outgrowth of that original program.  Join me now for a brief history of the program, and what programs like this mean to young people all over the country.

Monarch was founded in 1997 as a therapeutic day school for Houston-area kids whose neurological challenges were too much for the pubic school system.  At that time, the public schools would only go so far with special ed services.  Beyond that it was up to the parents.  The options were grim – institutionalization or out of state programs.

I knew that situation well, for it was what I faced as a neurodiverse child in the 1960s.  Who could forget the fear of being sent to a state school for the retarded, or its alternative: reform school; jail for teenagers.  That was the situation that prevailed in Texas (and many other states) when Monarch was founded.

State schools and reform schools didn’t reform, educate, or develop their charges.  They were little more than doorways to adult disability or criminality; they were the worst possible places for neurodiverse children to be sent.  They were a product of the thinking of 1960’s psychiatrists – thinking that said kids like us were lazy, stupid, or deliberately defiant.  To them, discipline was the answer, not therapy.

Monarch founder Marty Webb had a different vision.  She imagined a place where kids could feel safe; a place where their talents would be developed and nurtured.  When I first visited Monarch – in 2007 – it was obvious that her vision was working.  When I went into the classrooms the feelings of safety, peace, and pride were palpable.  I knew immediately that Monarch was a very special institution.

That was why I asked them to write the teacher’s guides for my books Look Me in the Eye and Be Different.  Under the guidance of Monarch staffer John Barone the students and staff studied both books and made teaching guides that included both adult teacher and autistic student perspectives.  I was very proud of the results.

Monarch grew and developed as I watched.  They added a diagnostic clinic, which provides services to schools and families all over Texas.  They added a residential program, which accommodates students who can’t make the trip from home daily.  They even added a training program, to teach their methods to others who wanted to open schools in their images, and indeed Monarch-based schools have sprouted around the United States and even in Mexico and Central America.  These were the changes that turned Monarch from a school to an institute.

The most remarkable thing about all of this was that it was accomplished entirely through the support of families and donors.  The generosity of the Houston community was nothing short of remarkable.  With a steady inflow of students, Monarch outgrew their initial space, and the campus that followed it.  A donation of twelve acres of prime Houston land promised all the room they would ever need, but they had to raise the money to build on it.  When I visited Houston in 2011 the process was well underway, and their first building was open.  Since then, they have raised over fifteen million dollars, and they’ve just opened the John O’Quinn campus.

This Tuesday I listened to Barbara Bush, Marty Webb, and others from the community and the governing board as they shared their stories and showed us the new campus.  I even said a few words myself, and my wife and I spent a day with the students. I’m pleased to say the programs are even better than what I saw on my first visit in 2007.

If I were to pick one way to describe the school, it would be this:  Monarch is focused on helping every student be the best he can be, from age three until young adulthood.  Monarch isn’t about blame, cure, discipline or any of those things that were so counterproductive in my life (and the lives of other autistic adults.)  They are about potential, and helping each of us to become the best we can be, each in our own special way.  It’s a really great place; one I’m proud to know.

Regular readers of this blog know I've founded my own program up here in Massachusetts in conjunction with Tri County Schools.  Read the latest on that program here.  Our TCS Auto Program is teaching the automotive profession to young people with challenges in the midst of our commercial auto complex.  When I think of what I want TCS Automotive to feel like for students, I think of Monarch.  I give my Texan friends my strongest possible endorsement.

If you’re in the Houston area I invite you to stop by for a visit.  Tell them I sent you, if you're feeling brave or adventurous.  And if you’re far away, visit them online through this link

John Elder Robison

John is the NY Times bestselling author of LOOK ME IN THE EYE and BE DIFFERENT. His latest book - RAISING CUBBY - is on sale in North American paperback March 18.  Order your copy today!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Imperial Chinese War Pugs in the news

Researchers at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine recently announced a groundbreaking study that will explore genetic commonalities between DNA from mummified canines in the tombs of Imperial China and certain dog breeds of today. 

Imperial Chinese War Pug

Particular attention is being paid to Japan’s shiba inu dogs, and the Imperial war pugs of China.  Legend has long associated both those breeds with ancient China, as far back as the time of Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, prior to the Xia Dynasty (2,870-2,050BC.)  Researchers hope to solidify the connection between these two historic breeds and an important period in the development of the Middle Kingdom.

Studies like this are just now becoming possible, thanks to advances in prehistoric DNA extraction and new methods of sequencing damaged fragments.  China has been a leader in this work; its work with pandas has drawn worldwide acclaim.  The same analytic techniques will be used for these canine studies.

Little is known of the shiba inu in America, but the pug has become quite popular here.  Pugs were brought to this country by British sailors and traders who acquired them after their liberation at the sacking of the Summer Palace by British troops in 1860. Prior to that event pugs were rarely seen outside China.

The shiba inu has always been one of the great dogs of Japan. The determination that the breed actually originated in China may be a blow to nationalist pride for certain prominent Japanese breeders; that may explain their criticism of this research in yesterday’s Japan Daily Canine.

In the western world, pugs are thought of as lap dogs or pets, but they are viewed with far greater reverence in the East. In China, pugs are honored with lives of meditative contemplation, especially in that country’s Buddhist communities.  The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an, China, is known for its pugs and its carp; both are said to possess extraordinary wisdom though I remain mystified as to how one might ascribe great wisdom to a fish.  Outside of China, the pug’s spiritual nature is less widely known but they are indubitably popular.

Establishment of a solid connection between either or both these great breeds and the dogs of China’s Imperial past would be a great achievement for canine geneticists. I look forward to the results of this exciting research, and I am sure you share my enthusiasm.

Best wishes

John Robison

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Latest from our new TCS Automotive-Centered High School Program

It's another Friday morning here at Robison Service.  I walk into the lower shop, and spot an older Mercedes-Benz sedan with its hood open.  In its shadow, three young men cluster around an older fellow as they point at the motor and engage in an intense discussion.  It’s a scene that could be happening anywhere in the 32 bays of our automotive service complex, but this spot is unique.

This area is not a commercial garage.  It’s a campus – a very special high school program for teens with behavioral issues, or challenges like ADHD, Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, or autism. The older fellow is Mark Girard, an experienced vocational instructor, and the young men are his students.  Special Ed assistant Nestor Torres stands to the side, ready to lend a hand.  Nine teens from districts all over Western Massachusetts have signed up for the first semester of our TCS Automotive Program.  I'm really, really proud to host them here in our complex.

The program is the realization of a longstanding dream I’ve had, to help people like me grow up and make their way in the world.  Ever since the release of Look Me in the Eye parents have found their way to my shop, families in tow.  “Can you teach our child about cars,” they ask?  Some offer to leave their kids without charge.  Others wave cash.  I’ve even had young adults come by, volunteering themselves.  Who knew being autistic would make me so popular?

Still, I was never able to accept any of those offers, because I didn’t have anyone to supervise the volunteers, enthusiastic though they might have been.  Yet we need new workers; talented young people who want to enter the auto trade are a rare commodity.  Last year I decided to do something about it.

“Would you like to help teach the automotive trade to special ed students?”  That was my question to the folks at Northeast Center for Youth and Families.  They operate Tri County School – a large special needs school with culinary and other programs in nearby Easthampton. I knew their culinary program for high school students was a hit.  Why not cars?

To my surprise and pleasure they were very quick to embrace the idea.  “We need to give our kids real skills they can use to get jobs.  All too often, they leave here with a high school diploma and then fall flat because they can’t find work.”   Those were the words of Paul Rilla, head of NCYF’s program.  He saw the program’s potential right away.

Even with that endorsement, it took quite a bit of discussion and planning to build what you see today.  The vision was simple but challenging:  Teach high school students a combination of academics (most graduate with regular diplomas from the referring districts), social skills, and automotive inspection and repair skills.  We proposed to do that teaching in the midst of an environment where cars are fixed for real, by working professional mechanics. 

The NCYF board gave the go-ahead for the project in the winter of 2012-13.  We began preparation of the area that spring.  One of the first tasks was finding a vocational instructor who shared our ideals.  We found that in Mark Girard, who was teaching at a vocational program in Holyoke.  He agreed to join us at the end of his school year. Tri County received its state license to operate the program in our complex in late July, just in time for the first day of school at the beginning of September.

We’re licensed as a satellite campus of Tri County Schools, which is part of Northeast Center for Youth and Families, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit MA Chapter 766 special needs school operator.  Students spend a week in automotive shop then a week in academic classes at the main Tri County School.  They are divided into two groups that alternate places weekly. 

It’s been quite a journey for me, serving as an advisor to a high school shop program. The school is run by licensed professionals, of course, but I advise from my perspective an autistic adult, a former special needs student, and an owner of automotive service businesses.  I’ve been speaking at schools for years, and meeting with students even longer, but being part of this on a daily basis was new.  The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s really complicated, making and running a successful school.  But it’s a lot of fun, and I’m very proud of what our students and staff have done in the short time we’ve been open.

Our students are doing really well – much better than any of us expected.  I had thought we might have to go slower and perhaps limit our curriculum, when compared to regular vocational high school.  Yet the opposite has proven true.  We’re going faster, and digging deeper into theory and practice.

Our students show their special skills at the most unexpected times – like when you open a drawer to find every tool laid out as if we were in a surgical suite.  Or when we bring a vintage car into the shop and another student already knows a thousand little things about it.   

There are other times when we see our challenges, and I’m glad we are able to have a 2:1 student-staff ratio in the shop.  Several students have told me this is the “real thing,” as opposed to high school, which has a different meaning to some.

I’ve told the students that I am committed to helping them with apprenticeships in our commercial complex, so they can leave us with actual job references.  Another of our goals is to help students gain specific credentials every year they are with us.  For example, we are beginning to work on driver’s licenses for some students – because you can’t get a job fixing cars if you can’t drive them legally!  We’re looking at helping our students get licenses to do state safety inspections, which qualify them for jobs all over the state.  Later on, we’ll work toward ASE certificates though those also require a period of work in the industry.

Several of our students went on TV to talk about their experience here.  A reporter also visited us from New England Public radio.  This is her account of the school.

We expect most students to spend two years in our program though some may benefit from all or part of a third year, subject to home district funding and approval.  At this time, our student population is all supported through the public school and MA DESE funding systems.  We provide transportation and our parent nonprofit (NCYF) has residential options as well.

We will prepare students for jobs in the trade, if they want to go right to work.  We also encourage students to continue on to college programs through our community college network, and other collaborating colleges in and around Springfield.  We’re building those networks now and hope to be announcing some exciting collaborations very soon.

We’re almost halfway through our first school year, and we’re ready to talk about enrollment for fall 2013.  If you know someone who’s approaching 16, has a special needs diagnosis and an IEP, is interested in cars, and looking toward a bright future beyond high school - - - I encourage you to talk to them, and give our admission folks a call at 413-529-7777.
If you want to pay us a visit the automotive campus is at 347 Page Boulevard in Springfield, MA.  Tri County’s main campus is at 203 East Street in Easthampton.

John Elder Robison is an autistic adult who is known as a writer and advocate for people with autism and neurological differences.  He is currently Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary, and he serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services.  He is also the founder of J E Robison Service - a specialty business that repairs and restores high end automobiles in Springfield, Massachusetts