When my daughter was diagnosed in 1999, I read every book written about autism. That wasn’t difficult to do back then but today it’s a different story. There are so many books on the subject that I don’t think I’d know where to begin if I got the diagnosis today.


While I don’t feel the need to read everything autism these days, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this book and wanted to share a bit of it with you.

First, the authors’ personal connection to autism: Caren Zucker’s oldest son has autism as does John Donvan’s brother-in-law. They both are award-winning news journalists who obviously did their homework in researching the history of what is now the most common developmental disability.

Their history starts in the 1930s with Donald Triplett, the man from Mississippi who was “Case Number 1”, the first diagnosed with autism by child psychiatrist, Leo Kanner. While chock-full of historical facts and figures, it is the stories used to chronicle autism’s history that grabs attention and hearts. It reads like a page-turning novel even though we know the story and that there is no surprise happily-ever-after ending.

At times it was difficult to read about the early days of institutionalization and punishment as treatment and of course, the theories that blamed “refrigerator mothers” for causing autism. Equally difficult is the realization of how glacially slow science has been in answering the same questions Mr. Triplett’s parents asked: what caused this and how do we best help our child?

The best aspect, by far, of In a Different Key is the validation of the Herculean efforts of parents to advocate for the needs and rights of their children. Theirs is a civil rights story that humbles the fiercest of advocates today, considering where they started and how much they accomplished. I turned the last page feeling a debt of gratitude to those who came before us, and a realization that, with each generation, we carry and then pass the torch.