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In a Different Key

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donovan and Caren Zucker

Shutting people up in a mental hospital with very little social interaction was one way medical professionals dealt with certain cases a long time, but things have certainly changed.  In their new book, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, authors John Donovan and Caren Zucker tell the story of autism through its first case to today’s perception of the condition.  With anecdotal information, scientific breakthroughs, and the personal stories of those like Donald, Donovan and Zucker do a wonderful job at telling the story of autism.

In the first chapter, we get a picture of Donald, the first known case of autism.  Growing up in Forest, Mississippi, Donald ‘could not tolerate even the slightest of changes to his physical surroundings.’  The hardest thing for his mother was his emotional indifference to her, including when she hugged and kissed Donald.  In chapter 3 we find that Beamon and Mary turned to Dr. Leo Kanner, a doctor who took the straitjackets off those patients who really didn’t them but also studied cases like Donald’s.  To prep for his visit, the family was asked to write up an observation journal about Donald, upon which Beamon wrote with a keen observational eye.  Chapter 4 relates that Dr. Kanner’s “discovery” of autism was not something that came over night but that was based on at least 4 years after meeting Donald for the first time. Kanner soon began to notice that sameness and aloneness were hallmarks of autistic children, in each case there were strong examples of these themes. 

Although it took time for Donald to adapt in the public school system, Mary noticed that he was fully engaged in a reading lesson and followed correctly what was asked of the teacher. His responses to questions were not full or very descriptive, but his development of language began to grow.  By 1944 Donald was writing letters, telling his mother about a red rose and almost spelling all the words correctly.  At 14 Donald became very ill but this did not stop his learning process nor do it stop his family and class from loving him well.

This is a remarkable book about the early years of autism on through today’s understanding of autism. 

Thanks to Blogging for Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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