Praise and Media


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“Magnificent…chock-full of suspense and hairpin turns…Donvan and Zucker paint the story in sweeping, cinematic bursts.”

“’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.”

“Their book is crafted like a tightly edited news special: The prose is vivid, the tempo rapid and the perspective intimate, as if each character has been filmed with a hand-held camera.”

“’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.”

“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.”

In a Different Key is nothing if not judicious and fair-minded in its approach to a field harried by controversies and enmities from the very start…[the book] is grounded and sensible, which in the contentious world of autism activism constitutes a kind of grace.”

“A fascinating history of this confounding condition.”

Watch John Donvan and Caren Zucker on CNN

Interview on SALON with John Donvan

Watch John Donvan and Caren Zucker on MSNBC’s Reporter’s Notebook

John Donvan and Caren Zucker onFive tips for candidates who want to talk about autism — responsibly” for THE WASHINGTON POST

“A fascinating history of science, treatment, and civil rights.”


Watch John and Caren’s Interview with AUTISM SPEAKS

Read John and Caren’s essay in the ARIZONA REPUBLIC

Rabbi Rami talks to John Donvan and Caren Zucker on SPIRITUALITY & HEALTH Podcast


“A meticulous, absorbing history of autism’s transformation from an unknown malady thought to warrant institutionalization and a diagnosis ‘shrouded in shame, secrecy and ignorance,’ to an increasingly accepted, even celebrated, condition.”

In a Different Key is almost as much a history of coping with ignorance and uncertainty as it is a voyage of discovery…It is the great achievement of this book to show how this happened in an exciting and poignant way.”

In a Different Key recounts the many strenuous trials that families have encountered and continue to face. But it also brilliantly illuminates the successes, the strengths and the hope….Think of In a Different Key as a treatment program for blurred sight. Everyone who reads it will experience newfound clarity.”

“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 (starred)

“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.”

“Sweeping in scope but with intimate personal stories, this is a deeply moving book about the history, science, and human drama of autism. It’s also something larger: a fascinating exploration of a social movement that grappled with the mysteries of mind, behavior, and the relationship between parents and children.”
WALTER ISAACSON, author of The Innovators and Steve Jobs

“Donvan and Zucker’s generous yet sharp-eyed portraits of men, women, and children—most of them unknown until now—make it stunningly clear that we all have a stake in the story of autism. We come to understand that we are all wired differently, and that how we treat those who are different than most is a telling measure of who we truly are. This is the kind of history that not only informs but enlarges the spirit.”
—SUSAN CAIN, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

“In this long-awaited work, Donvan and Zucker sensitively and accurately portray the emergence of understanding of this thing we now call autism, a story that goes back hundreds of years. They make a compelling case for autistic traits—gift and disability alike—being part of the human condition. In the words of child psychiatry pioneer Leo Kanner, autism was ‘always there,’ even before the diagnosis was invented. In a Different Key also provides a fresh take on the issue of neurodiversity in all its complexity.”
JOHN ELDER ROBISON, author of Look Me in the Eye and Switched On

“In this absorbing book, John Donvan and Caren Zucker provide a comprehensive history of autism: identifying records that point toward the existence of the condition long before it was named; unpacking the evolution of the diagnosis; chronicling the history of blame attached to it; and narrating its explosion as one of the most common syndromes among children today. Fast-paced and far-reaching, this book contextualizes the arguments that autism is a horrifying epidemic with those that say it is a valuable aspect of human diversity. This is an important missing piece to the conversation about autism; no one trying to make sense of the spectrum should do so without reading this book.”
—ANDREW SOLOMON, author of Far from the Tree

In a Different Key transports the reader back to the earlier days of autism. It is essential reading for anyone who is interested in how society treats those who are different.”
TEMPLE GRANDIN, author of Thinking in Pictures and The Autistic Brain

In a Different Key is filled with gripping personal histories that powerfully illustrate the mistakes and malpractices in the diagnosis and treatment of autism; the courage and resilience of those who fought for better treatment and deeper understanding; and the sheer variability of people who are given the autism label and too often lumped together as ‘disabled.’ A fascinating and revealing read, even for those with no personal connection to the topic.”
STEPHANIE COONTZ, author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

“Bravo to Donvan and brava to Zucker. Comically/tragically, autism’s history is as emotionally dysfunctional—and as beautiful—as it gets. Finally, we all have an exhaustive reckoning.”
MICHAEL JOHN CARLEY, founder, GRASP; author of Asperger’s From the Inside Out

“Donvan and Zucker delve deep into both the science and the politics of autism across time. They tell the story of the extreme treatments that have been tried, such as administering LSD or electric shocks in the ‘60s, to ‘normalize’ these children. They uncover the tragic ‘mercy killing’ of a teenager with autism by his father, and explore the MMR vaccine-causes-autism theory, named by TIME magazine as top of the list of ‘great science frauds.’ This book makes a remarkable contribution to the history of autism.”
SIMON BARON-COHEN, author of The Essential Difference; Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University

“This one volume captures the textured and sometimes turbulent story of autism in all of its facets: as a scholarly and  scientific endeavor, as a political and legal enterprise, as a  social movement.  Most especially it embeds these developments within stories of people whose lives defined and shaped the course of autism. In a Different Key is authoritative and utterly absorbing.”
JUDITH FAVELL, past president, Developmental Disabilities Division, American Psychological Association