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In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  1,844 ratings  ·  365 reviews
Nearly seventy-five years ago, Donald Triplett of Forest, Mississippi became the first child diagnosed with autism. Beginning with his family’s odyssey, In a Different Key tells the extraordinary story of this often misunderstood condition, and of the civil rights battles waged by the families of those who have it. Unfolding over decades, it is a beautifully rendered histo ...more
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published January 19th 2016 by Crown
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John Donvan Yup, the very same, making the move into the "author" genre. And let me tell you, it's a lot harder than TV!

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4.30  · 
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 ·  1,844 ratings  ·  365 reviews


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Lark Benobi
Oct 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed reading In a Different Key a great deal, and I learned a lot from it. The authors cover a huge amount of territory, from the first person who ever received a diagnosis of "autism" to the latest thinking about what is now known as "autism spectrum disorder." The book is written with great compassion and meticulous care.

What this book did for me was make me realize (once again?) that 99% of what we all know to be "true"about autism is actually the result of flawed thinking, combined with
...more
Teresa
Nov 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
"If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism". The same applies to books about autism.

I've read lots of books related to autism, from fiction with quirky protagonists with autistic traits to handbooks written by specialists and memoirs and guides from those on the autistic spectrum. All of them have helped in different ways with how I deal with the challenges autism presents me with on a daily basis.

This is the first, "definitive" story of autism I have encountered an
...more
Spider the Doof Warrior
I'm not hearing good things about this. The way a lot of non-autistic people look at autism is different than how autistic people look at it. Like they may consider stuff like ABA to be useful and helpful while autistic adults who went through it report PTSD from it. They see things like stimming as bad habits that need to be stopped, but autistic people find it comforting. Or lack of eye contact equals not listening to the person or being in their own world while a lot of autistic people say it ...more
Sarah
Jul 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
Awful, dehumanizing book. Presents abuse, torture, even murder of disabled people as "love". Makes every excuse for unfit parents while demeaning and dismissing self-advocacy in all forms.

You won't learn much about autism from this massive tome. But it does serve as an excellent study in narcissistic parenting. So there's that.

Some Relevant Links

"One consequence of Donvan and Zucker’s stigmatizing approach to autism is that, by definition, any effort to eliminate autistic traits is seen as noble
...more
Ellie
In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan is a fascinating review of the history of the diagnosis of autism, the rise of advocacy groups and the movement for neurodiversity. From Donald Triplett, the first child diagnoses by autism pioneer Dr. Leo Kanner to the vaccine wars, the rise of the parent advocacy groups CAN, NAAR, and Autism Speaks, to the members of the autism community, people like Temple Grandin, Donvan provides up-close examinations as well as general overviews of the ...more
Rebekah
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
At first, I was hesitant to read In A Different Key due to some of the negative reviews. Having two Autistic Nephews and one Autistic Niece, I was afraid I would personalize the abysmal care that was given to patients at the Institutions. After reading the book I can say that ignoring those reviews was the best thing I did.

I think some people went into it expecting a first-person narrative, not knowing it was a historical timeline of the major milestones, from 1930’s going into 2013. Donvan and
...more
Ariel
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This was one of the best books I have ever read. I have friends with children on the spectrum, I have a family member on the spectrum, and I work in an elementary school with kids on the spectrum. I picked this book up to learn more about a condition that I encountered all of the time but besides what I had personally observed, in reality I knew very little about it. I was initially daunted by the heft of this book but after reading it I wouldn't have deleted a word. It left me wanting to know e ...more
Jimmy
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What is autism?

You think you may know the answer, and you probably do. At least on the surface. The answer to what autism is, its history, and its divisive battles, In A Different Key offers readers a satisfying and enlightening account of the various perspectives of autism. As an educator myself and someone who works with people with autism on a daily basis, it was extremely heartening to learn so much about this 'condition' that I didn't know that I didn't know.

Written by two journalists, John
...more
Lp1989
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
NB: I am reviewing this at the same time as Neurotribes and will occasionally be drawing comparisons.

IADK compared to NT is well meaning enough but suffers from a simplistic premise - namely the fact that the authors are working from a medical model of ASC with an emphasis on parental advocacy and biomedical intervention - often with the aim of producing genetic markers to allow for pre natal screening - at the expense of the viewpoint of autistic adults, self-advocacy, and the social model of
...more
Carol
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I made a difficult decision when I decided to read In A Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donovan and Caren Zucher . My brother is severely autistic. He was born in 1955 when I was nine. I am going to do this review in a very personal way, through my own experiences.

The authors started this history of autism with the first boy diagnosed with it. That boy, Donald Triplett had well educated parents, like mine but they were wealthy unlike mine. The biggest difference outside of the fact t
...more
Jessica
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I feel I must give the warning that the way most of the population with autism, and most people with mental disabilities, have been treated in the past was awful until recently. This book is about that history. We have come a long way from what used to common in terms of care and treatment of this population, we still must continue to move forward. In order to do so I feel it necessary to learn the history. This is a great place to start.

This is respectfully told, as respectful as possible cons
...more
Mary
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks, favorites
This book is an absolute marvel. It does for autism what "The Emperor of All Maladies" did for cancer--it's essentially a biography of this disease (can we even call it that?) that has befuddled people for going on a century now. This is not an easy read: though exceptionally well-written, it is dense, and the players--both the doctors and the families--are plentiful and easy to get mixed up. (The chronology at the end serves as a nice summary/reminder--that was a great touch.) I'm wondering if ...more
Haley Keller
This book had it's good points, but those were overshadowed by its problems.

The book shares many stories of families who have a child diagnosed with autism. Notice that I said families and not stories about autistic children. In many of the stories within the book, I noticed that there was a heavy focus on the emotions that the parents of the autistic child were feeling and very little said about the autistic child's own feelings. This is probably something many people wouldn't notice, but I was
...more
Matthew Henken
Jan 06, 2017 rated it did not like it
Ugh. I was looking forward to reading this very much. I am interested in autism as a psychological, medical, and social phenomenon and the reviews for this book have been outstanding.

I was extremely disappointed in this book. The writing as a mechanical matter was fine, but the book read like a (vastly) extended magazine article of the middling sort. It narrates event after event and dispute after dispute without (seemingly) any interest in probing beneath the surface or considering the hard qu
...more
Carol
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Received as a GoodReads giveaway. I'm not a psychologist, not an autism expert of any kind, just an interested individual with extended family members on the autism spectrum. So when this hefty book arrived, I worried about being swamped with medical jargon and dry discussions of research papers. It turned out to be a very readable book focused on the human face of autism, with stories of the patients, families, doctors and others involved in autism diagnosis and treatment since the 1930s. From ...more
Vannessa Anderson
In Forest, Mississippi nearly 75-years ago, Donald Triplett became the first child diagnosed with autism.

In the beginning mothers were blamed for giving their children autism and these mothers were called refrigerator mothers. It took advocates who shared what their inner worlds were liked to lead the fight for equality for Americans with Autism and those dedicated Americans fought the politicians, the medical profession, and school boards to win rights for Americans who live with Autism.

In A
...more
Rachel Kulik
Aug 23, 2019 marked it as nope
i've heard this book centers the families of autistic people rather than autistic people themselves, as well as advocating for aba therapy which amongst the autistic community has been compared to torture and conversion therapy. i live my autistic life every day, and while i would be interested in the history of my brain type, i also would rather read it from an autistic author rather than an allistic.
Alyssa Yoder
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and engaging and informative. I highly recommend this.
Judy Lesley
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It would be difficult for me to give this incredible accumulation of information any rating other than five stars. Autism has only touched my family in ways which haven't helped me understand what it truly entailed. One of my daughters is a school teacher and the other works with juveniles involved in the court system so I've heard their experiences with children with autism and yet even that didn't give me the full background I was searching for. This book does.

Taking on the story of autism has
...more
Sarah
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is such a comprehensive book that it's hard to describe. I would compare it to The Emperor of All Maladies: a biography of cancer- like that book, this is both informative and devastating. It starts with the earliest cases of what would become known as autism and describes the parents' efforts to get their children diagnosed and treated, the medical/psychiatric community's efforts to understand and describe the condition, and the way that autistic people were viewed and treated, from the ea ...more
Kara
In a Different Key: The Story of Autism is an incredibly detailed history of the activism of parents of autistic children and adults to increase the resources available in our society for those affected as well as educating the public about this spectrum of conditions. However, a significant weakness of this work was the focus on the struggle of parents of the autistic at the expense of a focus on the activism and perspective of autistic people themselves. Frankly, I found this disparity very di ...more
Meghan
Aug 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Over the decades the way we, as society, have looked at autism has changed. From being a big shame, blaming the mother, to people thinking vaccines caused autism, and everything in between this book tackles it. Starting in the 1930s all the way up to today’s age this has shown how autism has fit, and at times hasn’t fit, into society. This was an eye opening account of the ins and outs to autism. The way the facts were laid out was done nicely. It followed a chronological order and the reader ca ...more
Renee
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book. This is a history, that is our history and needs to be understood. Donovan and Zucker have written a history of Autism that is broad in its scope, using personal stories, early records and the work of the pioneers in this field of study. To read this book is to better understand the complex issues surrounding autism, where the diagnoses came from and how. This is an essential work concerning the treatment of others, and how society defines those who are or seem di ...more
Alice Lemon
My feelings on this book are...complicated. Donvan and Zucker definitely write from a position of some concerning unexamined biases in favor of autism parents, against the neurodiversity movement, and and in favor of eradicating autistic traits to make children more normal. This is definitely a book that needs to be read with several grains of salt. That said, it's also a book that goes into an incredible amount of detail about the history of the autism parents' movement, and of the early medica ...more
Ivy
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In addition to chronicling the the story of how autism is perceived by society, it also tells the history of tension between the experts and the non-experts. Without parents who are willing to challenge those in authoritative positions, autistic children were perceived as idiots unworthy of education, to be locked away in institutions. Yet the same parents, in their zeal to advocate for their children, were quick to believe in unscientific theories that resulted in the community wasting its reso ...more
Patrick
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My son has non-verbal autism, so I spend a lot of time thinking about what life must feel like for him. I once did an empathetic experiment with my daughter, who is only a year older than my son, to try and help her understand how hard things are for him. She had to go one hour without speaking, and only use non-verbal cues to help me understand what she was thinking and feeling. She made it less than 10 minutes before she broke down in tears, saying it was too hard and frustrating. My son obvio ...more
Abby
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Totally riveting. I flew through this massive book, which is a history of how autism was given a name and how that name — and the development of the autism spectrum and what that diagnosis entails — has shifted, and continues to shift, from the 1940s to the present. That's the key takeaway: None of this is finished. This is not a definitive history. The authors betray their broadcast journalism roots sometimes (ending almost every chapter's final paragraph with a predictable "hook"), but it work ...more
Marie Smith
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book wonderfully describes the history of understanding autism (associated cultural attitudes and what was learned through scientific research), beginning roughly in the 1940s. It is a nearly 500-page page turner.
Kathryn
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
This was a fascinating book. The growth in medicine, the growth in diagnosing any type of health issues is so interesting. The early days of testing were gruesome to our standards today yet without those test there would not be progress.
ERIN SCHMIDT
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoy good writing about science topics, and I'm especially interested in books that explore the scientific and social history of medical conditions. This book hit all the right notes with me. It explored the topic of autism from the first modern diagnosis onward, then went back and looked at what could be historical examples of individuals with undiagnosed autism. Lest you think this book is nothing but dry scientific facts, however, please note that the authors have done an excellent job of ...more
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