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Raising Cubby: A Father and Son's Adventures with Asperger's, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives [Paperback]

John Elder Robison
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 April 2014
The slyly funny, sweetly moving memoir of an unconventional dad’s relationship with his equally offbeat son—complete with fast cars, tall tales, homemade explosives, and a whole lot of fun and trouble 
John Robison was not your typical dad. Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of forty, he approached fatherhood as a series of logic puzzles and practical jokes. Instead of a speech about the birds and the bees, he told his son, Cubby, that he'd bought him at the Kid Store—and that the salesman had cheated him by promising Cubby would “do all chores.” While other parents played catch with their kids, John taught Cubby to drive the family's antique Rolls-Royce. Still, Cubby seemed to be turning out pretty well, at least until school authorities decided that he was dumb and stubborn—the very same thing John had been told as a child. Did Cubby have Asperger’s too? The answer was unclear.

One thing was clear, though: By the time he turned seventeen, Cubby had become a brilliant and curious chemist—smart enough to make military-grade explosives and bring federal agents calling. With Cubby facing a felony trial—and up to sixty years in prison—both father and son were forced to take stock of their lives, finally accepting that being “on the spectrum” is both a challenge and a unique gift.

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Raising Cubby: A Father and Son's Adventures with Asperger's, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives + Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (A Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc) (17 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307884856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307884855
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.2 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 642,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, moving and quite captivating. 31 July 2013
By Cloggie Downunder TOP 500 REVIEWER
Raising Cubby is the third book by American author, classic car restorer and Aspergian, John Elder Robison. In it, he details the challenges faced by a father with Asperger's Syndrome as he tries to raise a child whom he belatedly learns has the same condition. From describing the plight of a person who cannot detect behavioural cues trying to understand a baby, through making up bedtime stories, battling with inflexible school authorities and finally on to the high school chemistry hobby that brings the ATF visiting and ends with a court appearance, Robison's narrative is often hilarious, occasionally poignant and always interesting. Robison's imaginative explanations are a great source of humour: how Santa got his reindeer; where babies come from; flying lizards; children with tails; nuclear horses; and being bear bait. He takes a novel approach to getting his son to sleep. Looking at trains takes on a whole other meaning with Cubby and his dad. Together they practice the economies of labour unique to bachelors; they experience their own version of the running of the bulls; they design their own house; they even get to be Chairman Mao (for a short while). Bizarre behaviour can become perfectly logical when explained by an Aspergian. It is gratifying to read just how positive Robison remains despite all the challenges and setbacks he has faced. This memoir is a fascinating look into the very different world of the Aspergian. Funny, moving and quite captivating.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable 21 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a father of a son with ADHD (a disorder related to Asperger's) I was first motivated to pick up this book and I'm glad I did. Not only are there many insights into the world of Asperger's but this book is also a touching father and son tale which is full of humour and with a court-room drama worthy of John Grisham.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  102 reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Asperger's and Parenting, A Wonderful View From the Inside 7 Mar 2013
By K. Groh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
On the surface, Raising Cubby is an entertaining, easy to read, and humor filled book. Great for any parent, young adult or avid reader.

However, if you have Asperger's, any relation to Asperger's, you are a parent with Asperger's, or a parent of a child with Asperger's, this book will mean so much more.

I deal with Aspergers on a daily basis, not me personally but in my family. It has not always been labeled as such but, like John Elder, finally knowing has its good and bad points. Knowing gives you power to see the great gifts that come with it as well as to better understand the reason behind the things that make you feel uncomfortable and different. But is also means that it is a part of who you are forever. I had a friend recently ask me, "Is there a medicine for Asperger's?" No there is not. But there is the ability, sometimes with help of therapy, to become more self-aware, to have the power to learn what is expected behavior and to work towards feeling more included in society, it is embracing the amazing qualities that the 'average' person doesn't have access to that make someone with Asperger's phenomenally smart, creative, ingenious, funny, and quirky. As Mr. Robison says, "The gifts and disabilities of Asperger's go hand in hand."

In Raising Cubby, John Elder Robison continues his journey from his own troubled but entertaining Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's to his journey as an adult with Asperger's parenting a child with Asperger's. Since he was unaware of his own diagnosis during his initial parenting years, he, like many parents, stumbled his way through, questioning what the best things were for his child.

The question I kept asking was, did having Asperger's while raising a child with it, make it easier or harder? How different would it have been if he had a non Asperger's child and had less personal experiences to relate? How much harder is it for a non Asperger parent to raise an child with Asperger's?

John Elder is like any parent, wondering if he is making good decisions for his child, providing the right environment, watching to see if Cubby is progressing like other children. We all go through those thoughts. We all question ourselves. I think John does a great job. He has amazing insight from his own childhood that he uses to help in his parenting. He provides Cubby with adventures and experiences that often left me wishing I was his child, but sometimes cringing as a parent.

This was especially evident with some of John's stories to Cubby. Like the idea that Santa works in a shipyard during the off season. Or that stone statues of children or animals were because they made a wizard mad and hopefully they would turn back someday. I worried that Cubby may need therapy for life to get past the idea that he was purchased, with a guarantee to do chores, from The Kid Store. Well, I didn't really worry but as a parent, I was on his mom's side when she would set the story right. Secretly, I was jealous of John's on-the-spot creativity and ability to keep the story up for days, months or years.

I love how John writes about quirky thing in such a matter-of-fact manner that left me laughing out loud. "Neither of us had any idea what to do with a kid. Yet there we were, raising Cubby. We'd read a few books, and visited some zoos and jails..." and "We liked the tables near the fireplace, and the hostesses came to know and accommodate us. We rewarded their treatment of us with regular tips, and by never starting a food fight, no matter how much some of the other diners tempted us." I loved that instead of going to Spain for the running of the bulls, he tells Cubby, "We have a local event, a strolling of the cows." It's like John has dismissed the old adage of "you can't do that" and is just doing his own thing. Sometimes I wish we all had a more inclination to be this way and add levity to our lives.

The book is not just about the upbringing and parenting of Cubby, but culminates in the federal trial of his then teenage son - well written and gripping till the end.

After reading his brother's account of life in Running With Scissors and his own story, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, I can't wait to see if Cubby (Jack) follows in this family's great storytelling and shares his side of the story.

The thing that is most evident throughout Raising Cubby is that John loves his son deeply and his son loves him. There is a bond that goes beyond dad and son, there is an understanding, a part of being united through the joys and troubles of Asperger's. I learned so much and felt better that I could relate as well. You will feel inspired, educated, and hopefully have a better outlook on parenting, Asperger's and how to let yourself be a little different in our world of so many.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Raising John Elder Robison & Cubby Too. 11 Mar 2013
By B. Caruso - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
SPEEDY REVIEW: Are you looking for a book with suggestions and advice on how to raise your child who has autism or Asperger's? If so, please scroll to the end of my review, I will link some of my favorites as alternatives to this one. Are you looking for a story, rather than a how-to, about one man's journey with his kid? Then this may prove to be a good choice for you.

"Raising Cubby" begins with the journey of John Elder Robison reaching technical, legal adulthood, seeking his niche in the world, and struggling with his, at the time undiagnosed, Asperger's. The story then transitions slowly from his story to a story about his son.

As I am familiar with John's writing, I was looking forward to learning more about Cubby and the experience of parenting (as a parent with Asperger's) a child with Asperger's. The transition was lengthy, but was a smart reflection on how that transition of self to other happens naturally in positive parent-child relationships. John Elder Robison's storytelling is fluid and full of humorous insights and little jokes and tall tales he has spun for his son. It was a joy to read about tales of the "Kid Store" and the stone boy. My son's dad and I have often woven such tales into our son's world to help loosen some of the rigidity and to exercise his creativity (and our own as well). It was reassuring to read that we aren't the only parents who do that and that clearly it results in a superior specimen (I'm joking, as does Robison in "Raising Cubby").

Readers looking for a how-to manual on Asperger's or parenting an Autistic child will be left feeling short changed. To be clear, this is not a book about Asperger's. This is not a book to help you determine if you or your child has Asperger's, or how best to raise your child with Aspergers. This is one man's account of his experience raising his child. The two of them happen to have Asperger's and Asperger's definitely is a major factor in the way they interact with the world and their intellectual processes, but readers looking for specific advice should look at other volumes.

This is an epic adventure from the beginning of a father's adulthood to approximately the same point in the life of his child. My son and I are both autistic/Aspergerian. Raising Cubby is one of the first accounts of parenting that I have read that didn't leave me feeling like I was reading a story about extraterrestrials raising ET children in an alien world, though I do wonder if non-autistic parents, raising autistic children, will feel as though this story gives them unparalleled insight into the ways of their children. I'll be curious to read reviews by non-autistic/non-Aspie readers. Even though I'm well aware of the sensation of being autistic/Aspergian in a predominantly non-autistic world, and raising a child who is like me, going along with John and Cubby, on their adventures through adulthood and the experience of parenting, was an enjoyable ride to the very end. I will warn that there is a definite speed shift in the middle of the book, but again I think that reflects the cadence of growing from kid to teenager. The pace seems quite languid but then races to a frenetic climax that Robison puts us square in the middle of so we can feel every dry-mouth, hammering heartbeat moment. And we get to enjoy cool down of those moments. Robison's storytelling voice is not soothing, but is the sort that tells a good campfire story, the kind that builds slowly and constricts around you until you are in it and not just a casual observer.

Readers looking for a good story about struggling through adulthood as defined by a number and growing to true adulthood and how people and parenting changes over time, will walk away feeling like they have been through the trenches by John's side and come out victorious at the end of the book. The end of the book comes at an appropriate moment in the lives of both John and Jack. Compared to the slow, but meaningful, transition from John's own story to his role as parent and guide and observer that carried us through the first third of the book, the book comes to a close when Cubby is responsible for his own story and it's as though the seasons have rolled over once again, offering a fresh landscape to traverse and explore. It is by no means the end of the line, and I do hope to hear more from John & Jack/"Cubby".

SUGGESTIONS for folks seeking more information about Asperger's:
Books that are more advice-oriented, and specifically address Asperger's, if that's the sort of book you are looking for:
Asperkids: An Insider's Guide to Loving, Understanding, and Teaching Children with Asperger's Syndrome
The Asperkid's (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-so-obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens With Asperger Syndrome
Aspergirls: Empowering Females With Asperger Syndrome

More of a storytelling style, but still more focused on advice than "Raising Cubby":
Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger's and My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families, and Teachers
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tagged at birth! 14 Mar 2013
By Kimberly J. Karas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When his son was born John did not trust the hospital to be able to keep track of him so he marked his newborn's foot with a Sharpie marker, just to be on the safe side. Sure that would be thought odd by most but it's really just a logical precaution for a first-time Aspergian dad. Having previously read Look Me in the Eye and loving it, I looked forward to the release of Rasing Cubby as soon as I saw it promoted on Facebook. If you have read his previous memoir you will surely like this one just as well if not even more.

If you are new to Robison's writing he is a unique and wonderful storyteller and rest assured you do not need any experience with Asperger's, trains, tractors or high explosives to appreciate his writing. When asked as seen by others reading both of these memoirs I would start by saying that he has Asperger's and frankly, that's what people assume it's all about. No matter what I would go on to say I literally believe that otherwise reasonable and intelligent people stopped listening after the "A" word. Baffles me still. Well haven't you ever heard not to judge a book by it's cover? Let yourself be hooked and then reeled into a life experience that may be narrated by a person on the spectrum but covers so much more. Prepare for an interesting and quirky tale about a life experience that goes beyond ordinary... all of it true as best he can recall.

John starts by telling of his son facing multiple charges of "malicious explosion" a serious consequence for his highly active interest in chemistry and desire to learn through independent experimentation. Back-tracking to before his son Jack came into the world and then recounting his memories of how he made his way through parenthood where both father and son have the disability with benefits... Asperger's syndrome. There are points where I could nod along with some personal amount of understanding of the spectrum traits, other times that I literally laughed out loud and all throughout I honestly was just plain moved. We are fortunate to be brought along into this story as it's readers.

Well as the journey of Cubby's childhood catches up again to the point where he is facing felony charges, the book takes on a different tone. I shook my head with disbelief that the investigation and prosecution went as in-depth as it did, it really becomes quite a page-turner. What this family went through and being put under the microscope, facing such horrific consequences... for essentially being an intelligent and curious young person. Could you go to prison for such things if you did not intend to or actually harm anyone? You might require a stronger defense for that than you might imagine. Would your neurological diagnosis become a necessary part of that or to what degree is it even relevant?

I enjoyed and was moved all the way through the book up to and including the epilogue and author notes! Really got above and beyond heart-warming there, sort of snuck up on me a bit. I simply could not have asked for more... except the next book perhaps?
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clarifying and Stupefying 14 April 2013
By R M Thornton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My father, aged 88, is probably an undiagnosed case of Asperger's. In his life, he was an WWII bomber pilot and wicked-good mechanical engineer. But when it came to parenting, understanding marriage, having friends, he was...well, he left something to be desired. I wanted to read this book in hopes of understanding my father better. In fact, this book provided perfect clarity for me, as some of the things the author does with his son, my father did with me. For example, many times, the author, who is Asperger's, scares his child, Asperger's as well, into behaving. I came alive with those vignettes of Robison's life with Cubby, as those events were like looking into a mirror for me. I could see how bizarre the author's parenting skills were, but I could also see that I had been raised in those same bizarre ways. So, the book engaged me deeply into understanding my father's behavior.

The book also bored the smack out of me. I taught college composition at two decent-sized universities for 32 years, so I'm really sensitive to how a book is written because of a life dedicated to teaching writing. This man writes like an Asperger's, and that means he details every story he tells to the point where you want to say out loud, "Yes, I *know* the sky is blue. I *know* the grass is green. Get ON with it!" Another characteristic of an Asperger's writer is that, while they detail some thing or event with the greatest depth, they gloss over completely some things which really matter. For example, the author describes his marriage failing very quickly ("We decided to separate") and the subsequent redevelopment of living skills in protracted, almost-painful detail. Which is the more important look into your life, Mr. Robison: the failure of a marriage or how you take care to fill your new bachelor-pad refrigerator?

The book clarified Asperger's syndrome and how a person with Asperger's engages in life. The book is characteristic of an Asperger's writer and delivers a knock-out punch in detail. Depends on how you look at that "knock-out punch." It can be good, or it can be bad. For me, it wasn't good.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Parenting, Aspergers, and the abuse of state power. 14 Mar 2013
By Paul A. Mastin - Published on Amazon.com
John Elder Robison's new book Raising Cubby: A Father and Son's Adventures with Asperger's, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives, is really two books on one. One thing it is not, is a manual for parents who have a child on the autism spectrum.

The first book, as the title suggests, is a collection of vignettes of Robison's adventures with his son, Cubby. Any parent will appreciate the lengths to which Robison went to enjoy his son, to offer him a variety of experiences, and to help him explore his interests. Since both father and son have Asperger's. their adventures are perhaps a bit more quirky than many of ours. I especially liked their practice of buying small amounts of stock in companies, then showing up at a work site to request a tour of "their" property. They were aided by the fact that they arrived in a pristine, vintage Rolls Royce, bought cheap and carefully restored by Robison. When someone shows up in a Rolls, says he's a share holder, and requests a tour, people can be pretty accommodating.

His stories are amusing, but it sometimes felt as if I were reading someone's blog which, while it may be interesting to close friend and family, and as a means of chronicling events for Cubby's later perusal, got a bit tiresome for me. I will say that although this is not a manual for parenting children with Asperger's, I can imagine that many parents will be nodding in recognition as they read about Cubby's obsessive behaviors, social skills, and difficulties at school.

The second part of the book deals with Cubby's obsession with explosives, and the legal trouble he got into as a result. As a teen, Cubby took a deep interest in chemistry. He studied voraciously and became an expert (an expert at his trial he had a level of knowledge equivalent to a PhD candidate in chemistry), especially with explosive compounds. He was always safe and not destructive, but local police got wind of his work and overreacted. The DA thought she had a great career-building case and pursued Cubby as if he were a 9/11 bomber.

This part of the book serves as a cautionary tale of the damage caused by an overreaching government. Even though Cubby was fully cooperative and truthful with investigators, and his lab in his mother's basement was safe and legal, the police still treated the house like it was an al Qaeda bomb factory, trashing it and then sending his mom a bill. Then even though the police found nothing for which to arrest Cubby, the DA pressed charges, costing Cubby's family thousands of dollars in legal fees and months and months of stress. At one point Robison says Cubby is interested in libertarian politics. After the experience he had with the legal system, I can't blame him!

One early theme that stood out to me, and that many parents of children with special needs can relate to, is the Robison's struggles with the school system. In the dedication, Robison notes that Cubby's mother "grabbed hold of the school system, shook hard, and made them accommodate our kid." I love that description. The same could be said of my wife! Later he talks about attempting to get special services for their hard-to-classify son. "Public schools have a legal obligation to make education accessible to kids who are impaired or have learning disabilities. The two things they don't have an obligation to remediate are 'dumb' and 'stubborn,' so that's what they wanted him to be." So true.

Robison is a gifted writer whose style and content captures the Asperger's-tinged perspective and attitude of both father and son. Readers, especially those with a family member on the spectrum will enjoy getting to know the Robison family.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!
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