In a Different Key: The Story of Autism
By: John Donvan
Publication Date: January 2016
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
I simply didn’t know enough, next to nothing actually, about the trials that families go through when they have a child with autism. Like many, I could probably spout out a few statistics and have heard a few stories now and then, nothing particularly earth-shattering I suppose. My only encounter with an autistic child was some time ago in a school hallway. The boy was so out of control I was wondering why they couldn’t get a grip on his behavioral issues. Perhaps I was ignorant, but in retrospect I simply didn’t know anything about autism.
My journey through this book began in the preface where I met Jodi DiPiazza. The introduction to this child was brief, but poignant as I made my way to YouTube to learn a bit more about her. “Night of Too Many Stars” brought this little star to a stage where she performed with Katy Perry. Jodi played the piano and sang “Firework” with this mega-star. I was mesmerized with the performance, now fully aware of how loved she was and how hard she’d worked to get where she was. I wanted to know more about autism, I had to.
It turns out I knew more about autism than I expected, but it was a phenomenon hidden from me...in plain sight. Yes, I’d seen these children before, I’d read about them, and had actually worked with many. The more I read, the more I recognized and remembered them. What about that little girl who bit me so many times? The little echolalic boy I dearly loved who fought gallantly when anyone pulled him out of his little world. Yes, I knew them, but knew nothing about them. This book took me back through time to learn about these children.
Case 1 just happened to be Donald Gray Triplett. This boy obviously was not the first, but the first child to be “officially” diagnosed and followed. His mother Mary was under a great deal of stress and later exclaimed to Leo Kanner that she had a “hopelessly insane child.” Later in the book I found that the word “insane” had been tossed little Archie Castro’s way, but he was sent up the river to an insane asylum when he was a five-year-old, but I digress. The Tripletts did have some money, a fact that didn’t hurt and aside from some time at the Lewis’s farm, Donald remained home. I kept reading.
Yes, I’d even met these children when I was a child myself. Have you read about the Wild Boy of Aveyron? It was none other than Victor, but he wasn’t wild (not really), he was autistic. This was a book I needed to read, to read to understand these children, to understand what their parents face, to understand what society faces, and to understand how we can help them. This is a narrative history that captivated me in more ways than one. My emotions ran the gamut from anger and shock to becoming thrilled right along with Ruth Sullivan when she said “we had hope” when the National Society for Autistic Children was born on November 14, 1965. In the backmatter there’s an Autistic Timeline, expansive chapter-by-chapter source notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Quill says: I learned, but I now want to learn more.