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 history of ordinary people determined to secure a place in the world for those with autism--by liberating children from dank institutions, campaigning for their right to go to school, challenging expert opinion on what it means to have autism, and persuading society to accept those who are different.
It is the story of women like Ruth Sullivan, who rebelled against a medical establishment that blamed cold and rejecting "refrigerator mothers" for causing autism; and of fathers who pushed scientists to dig harder for treatments. Many others played starring roles too: doctors like Leo Kanner, who pioneered our understanding of autism; lawyers like Tom Gilhool, who took the families' battle for education to the courtroom; scientists who sparred over how to treat autism; and those with autism, like Temple Grandin, Alex Plank, and Ari Ne'eman, who explained their inner worlds and championed the philosophy of neurodiversity.
This is also a story of fierce controversies--from the question of whether there is truly an autism "epidemic," and whether vaccines played a part in it; to scandals involving "facilitated communication," one of many treatments that have proved to be blind alleys; to stark disagreements about whether scientists should pursue a cure for autism. There are dark turns too: we learn about experimenters feeding LSD to children with autism, or shocking them with electricity to change their behavior; and the authors reveal compelling evidence that Hans Asperger, discoverer of the syndrome named after him, participated in the Nazi program that consigned disabled children to death.
By turns intimate and panoramic, In a Different Key takes us on a journey from an era when families were shamed and children were condemned to institutions to one in which a cadre of people with autism push not simply for inclusion, but for a new understanding of autism: as difference rather than disability.
"This is not a how-to guide or a polemic on neurodiversity. The book probes a difficult subject with intelligence and compassion--and makes you think. The complete absence of hysteria will make it essential reading for many... its insights and quiet wisdom demand our attention, and gratitude."--Amy Bloom in O, The Oprah Magazine
"Donvan and Zucker's tremendous study keeps autism at its center while telling an extraordinary tale of social change... Viewed as a whole, the narrative ultimately reveals a transition from an emphasis on treating individual cases to a more society-wide effort for advocacy and inclusion--an effort that this book will do much to advance."--Publishers Weekly
"How autism has been transformed over the past century into "a threat that stalk[s] the nation," giving pause to prospective parents. ABC correspondent Donvan and ABC TV news producer Zucker have covered autism since 2000, when they created the TV series "Echoes of Autism." They begin their chronicle in the mid-1930s, when the parents of Donald Triplett consulted with Leo Kanner, head of the Child Psychiatry Department at Johns Hopkins University. They hoped to find help dealing with their 5-year-old son's strange behavior. At that time, the doctor coined the name autism to describe Donald's affliction. Kanner was fascinated by Donald's cluster of symptoms, but he considered his condition to be untreatable and recommended placement in an institution. The authors explain that until the 1960s, it was still the norm to place children with epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism, and other intellectual disabilities in what were, in effect, "human warehouses." To make matters worse, Kanner, in an opinion seconded by renowned child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim, attributed the condition to rejection by "refrigerator mothers," who failed to nurture their children. Parents who sought to keep their children at home were denied community support, and their children could not attend public schools. Ultimately, Donald's parents rejected Kanner's advice, and he graduated college and became a valued member of his community. In the 1970s, as an offshoot of the civil rights struggle, the rights of the disabled to education and other community services were finally recognized. Today, the definition of autism includes children with minimal language skills and highly verbal college graduates with poor interpersonal skills. How best to serve this diverse community is still hotly debated. In this compelling, well-researched book, the authors weave together the heroic search by parents for treatment and services for their children with the personal stories of a fascinating cast of characters. An invaluable guide for those dealing with autism and an inspiring affirmation of every individual's contribution to "the fabric of humanity." Kirkus Reviews (‰÷É )
John Donvan is a multiple Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ABC and the moderator of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series.
Caren Zucker is a Peabody Award-winning television news producer, a twenty-five-year veteran of ABC News, and producer and co-writer of the six-part PBS series "Autism Now."
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