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In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,616 ratings  ·  334 reviews
Finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction

An extraordinary narrative history of autism: the riveting story of parents fighting for their children 's civil rights; of doctors struggling to define autism; of ingenuity, self-advocacy, and profound social change.

Nearly seventy-five years ago, Donald Triplett of Forest, Mississippi, became the first child diagn
Paperback, 688 pages
Published January 17th 2017 by Broadway Books (first published January 19th 2016)
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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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Lark Benobi
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
Nov 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
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
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
Jul 09, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.

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"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
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
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 consi
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Matthew Henken
Jan 06, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Haley Keller
Apr 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
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
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
Judy Lesley
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Marie Smith
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best biographies (or histories) are those which transcend the story that is being told. One does not even have to be interested in Autism to appreciate fully what the authors have done with this book. The arc of the story is tied together by how our understanding of the nature of Autism has changed from its early days until today and how complex it is to do science right.

The authors usually tell their history by focusing on particular characters and put them into the context of the time peri
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a completely fascinating, comprehensive look at autism. I've read a lot of autism books and this one is my favorite.
It was no surprise to read in the 'About the Authors' section at the end of the book that they each have a family member in the autism spectrum. This is clearly written from inside the camp and it's very well written at that. The scope of the book ranges from an overview of autism, its history, diagnoses, treatments, and advocacy to intimate profiles of individuals on the spectrum and their families. And it's those profiles that stand out with stories that focus on the person and not on their di ...more
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this book from goodreads. A subject I am always interested in learning more about having a grandson on the autism spectrum. I was a little afraid of this book due to it's length alone but the author had such a reader friendly writing style that I soon lost the feeling of reading a text book. A great book filled with information on a subject we have so much to learn about. I highly recommend this book.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

An outstanding overview of autism for the general reader. This book is highly readable and engaging. It is recommended for those who deal with autism in some way in their own lives and for professionals who work with those with those "on the spectrum".
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“Autism was, and would long remain, a diagnosis in the eye of the beholder.” 1 likes
“the sense of a professional discipline embracing a scientific methodology, a shared vocabulary, and an agreed-upon body of findings rooted in research and practice. In that regard, Kanner’s generation was among the pioneers.” 1 likes
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