In a Different Key

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In a Different Key
In a Different Key Book Cover.jpg
AuthorsJohn Donvan
Caren Zucker
CountryUnited States
GenreNarrative nonfiction
PublisherBroadway Books
Publication date
January 19, 2016
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages690 pp.
Awards2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction finalist
ISBN978-0-307-98567-5 (Hardcover)

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism is a book by John Donvan and Caren Zucker. The book covers the history of autism and autism advocacy.[1] Issues that they discuss include the Refrigerator mother theory and the possibility of an autism epidemic.[2] One autistic individual they cover in particular is Donald Triplett.[3][4][5] Another point they covered was psychiatrist Leo Kanner.[6] This book has additionally discussed the debate concerning the neurodiversity movement, especially with respect to low-functioning autistics.[2]


The book starts by focusing on Donald Triplett, the first recorded child to be diagnosed with autism. It discusses how he was treated and on his family. The book then focused on the refrigerator mother theory, which claimed that parents were the main cause of autism. It examined Leo Kanner and Bruno Bettelheim's role in the formation of this theory, and discussed whether Kanner supported the refrigerator mother theory or not. The following parts focused on redefining the disorder so that more people with autism could receive treatment and improve their potential. After that, the beginnings of early modern research of autism were discussed, along with how the disorder should be defined and whether it was a benefit or a deficit. The final chapters focus on the rise of public knowledge of autism, the MMR vaccine controversy, and the neurodiversity debate.[7]


Kirkus Reviews wrote that the book was compelling and well-researched, and the authors blended the search for treatment with the personal stories of various individuals.[8] Spectrum wrote that the book provided a meticulous, absorbing stepwise chronology of how the perception of autism changed from being unknown, to being abhorred than later accepted.[9] Ari Ne'eman claimed the book misrepresented neurodiversity.[10]


In a Different Key was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, described by the reviewers as "a passionate work of advocacy that traces public perceptions about autism from chillingly cruel beginnings to a kinder but still troubling present."[11]


  1. ^ Groopman, Jerome (26 January 2016). "'In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,' by John Donvan and Caren Zucker". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b Siegel, Robert. "'In A Different Key' Traces History And Politics Of Autism". Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  3. ^ Baron, Saskia (17 January 2016). "In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  4. ^ Miller, Laura (21 January 2016). "The Vindicated Parents". Slate. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  5. ^ "BOOK EXCERPT: 'In a Different Key' by John Donvan and Caren Zucker". ABC News. 20 January 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  6. ^ Bauer, Ann (28 January 2016). "'In a Different Key': a cinematic, sweeping story of autism". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  7. ^ Donvan, John; Zucker, Caren. In a Different Key: The Story of Autism. Crown. ISBN 9780307985675. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  8. ^ "IN A DIFFERENT KEY by John Donvan, Caren Zucker". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  9. ^ Nuwer, Rachel (19 January 2016). "'In a Different Key' presents symphony of autism's history". Spectrum. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  10. ^ Ne'eman, Ari (21 January 2016). "The errors — and revelations — in two major new books about autism". Vox. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  11. ^ ""General Nonfiction"". Retrieved 12 April 2017.

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