In a Different Key: The Story of Autism | Hardcover
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 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.
A Wall Street Journal Top Ten Best Nonfiction Book of 2016
Washington Post Notable Nonfiction List for 2016
A New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Editors' Choice
“Magnificent...Spellbinding—a fable about greed, power and betrayal told through the lens of autism...Chock-full of suspense and hairpin turns...This book does what no other on autism has done: capture all the slippery, bewildering and deceptive aspects...I have been the mother of an autistic son since 1988...I wept and laughed and raged while reading In a Different Key, all the while thinking, Yes! This is my experience, including the raw and dirty parts, but also the wonder and joy.”
–ANN BAUER, WASHINGTON POST
“Remarkable… In a Different Key: The Story of Autism tells a riveting tale about how a seemingly rare childhood disorder became a salient fixture in our cultural landscape. It features vivid portraits of people with autism and their devoted parents and recounts dramatic controversies among well-intentioned and occasionally misguided advocates and doctors who have tried to help those with the condition. These gripping personal stories give the book tremendous narrative drive.”
–WALL STREET JOURNAL
"The prose is vivid, the tempo rapid and the perspective intimate, as if each character has been filmed with a hand-held camera."
–JEROME GROOPMAN, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“In a Different Key is a story about autism as it has passed through largely American institutions, shaped not only by psychiatrists and psychologists but by parents, schools, politicians, and lawyers. It shows how, in turn, the condition acquired a powerful capacity both to change those institutions and to challenge our notions of what is pathological and what is normal.”
—STEVEN SHAPIN, NEW YORKER
“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; O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE