The Sunday Edition

The story of autism

Laura's guests are John Donvan and Caren Zucker, co-authors of a new book, "In a Different Key: The Story of Autism."
Donald Triplett (centre) now 83 years old, was the first child diagnosed with autism, with Caren Zucker and John Donvan, authors of "In a Different Key: The Story of Autism." (Penguin Random House)
Listen25:59

You don't have to look too far back to see how deplorably misunderstood autism has been. In the 1940's it was believed that children's autism was caused by "refrigerator mothers". A 1948 Time magazine article described these children as "diaper-aged schizoids" and blamed parents - especially mothers --  for being undemonstrative and distant.

This seems laughable - and cruel - now, but so little was known about autism that misperceptions flourished.

Children often paid the price. They were described as "pathetic patients", idiots, or worse -- and they were exiled to institutions for the mentally retarded or the insane. 

All of which is brilliantly documented in a new book by the award-winning journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker, co-authors of In a Different Key: The Story of Autism.

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