Meet the authors of “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism”

In a Different Key, The Story of Autism, Caren Zucker, John Donovan, Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix, Arizona, autism
Authors Caren Zucker and John Donvan will be in Phoenix on Thursday, Feb. 25.

Arizona parents can meet the authors of the groundbreaking new book, “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix.

The event is being hosted by Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and its “sister” nonprofit First Place Transition Academy, a community-based transition program for adults with autism.

The 688-page book, by Emmy Award-winning correspondent John Donvan and Peabody Award-winning television news producer Caren Zucker, unfolds a decades-long narrative—the story of autism—as a series of dramatic episodes exploring science, parenthood, empowerment and the meaning of being “different” in the 21st century.

Some of the stories are dark—children in institutions being shocked with electricity and fed LSD; mothers being told that they were the cause of autism; even a father killing his autistic son out of the desperate thought that he would be better off dead. But there are also inspiring stories about autistic people, parents and scientific amateurs who changed the world as we know it in classrooms, courtrooms, the media and elsewhere.

More than seven years in the making, the book weaves together largely unknown stories of previously unsung heroes, the rise of the disability rights movement, deinstitutionalization, the effort to mainstream those on the spectrum, breakthroughs in neuroscience and our understanding of the mind and the birth of the neurodiversity movement.

Donvan and Zucker, whose own families have been affected by autism, have been on the front lines of reporting on the social, medical and legal aspects of autism since 1999, even before it became a national topic of conversation. Their groundbreaking ABC News series, “Echoes of Autism,” launched in the early 2000s as network television’s first regular autism beat. Their article “Autism’s First Child,” which planted the seed for this book, was a finalist for the 2011 National Magazine Award in Profile Writing.

As Donvan and Zucker explain, it is striking to see how ordinary people—so often parents who were merely following an instinct to do right by their child—were at the forefront of creating major social change and a realignment in the priorities of scientific research. Just as impressive is how, in time, this activism came to include the full participation of more autistic people themselves.

“In a Different Key” explores:

  • The real meaning behind CDC statistics about the increasing prevalence of autism, now reported in one in every 45 children.
  • What is next for the 500,000 teenagers diagnosed with autism who will be become adults in the coming decade.
  • How the authors’ own journeys into autism’s forgotten past so often surprised them.
  • Whether there truly is an autism “epidemic” and if vaccines have played a part.
  • Why, up until 30 years ago, very few people had heard of autism and why that changed.
  • The complex impact of the neurodiversity movement, whose praiseworthy efforts to see autism destigmatized and autistic difference celebrated have been accused of causing the impairments of severe autism to be trivialized; and whose campaign against the search for a cure directly conflicts with many parents’ best hopes for their children.
  • New evidence (virtually unknown in the English-speaking world) that Hans Asperger, discoverer of the syndrome that bears his name, cooperated with the Nazis and knowingly sent disabled children to their deaths.
  • Which therapies are backed by science and which by wishful thinking.

“SARRC is humbled to be included in this national conversation and we are grateful to our partners and fellow autism organizations who have helped us build a community of support in Arizona,” says Daniel Openden, PhD, BCBA-D, SARRC’s president and CEO. “Together, we work to raise awareness about the hope and potential for those with autism and create inclusive, supportive workplaces, schools and community settings.”

What you need to know

  • Time/date: 7-8pm Thur Feb 25
  • Location: Changing Hands Bookstore (Phoenix location), 300 W Camelback Rd
  • Admission: Two free tickets with purchase of book
  • Information: 602-274-0067 or

Can’t make the event? Listen to the authors on NPR.