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In a Different Key

Thank you to supporters who have helped us reach nearly 20% of our 1 million dollar budget. (August 2017)

About this film:

Producers: Caren Zucker and John Donvan

Journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker bring to documentary film the set of stories that made a bestseller of their 2016 book, In A Different Key, The Story of Autism. A 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist, their narrative account of an unheralded civil rights movement was called “cinematic” by the Washington Post, and described by the New York Times “as if…filmed with a handheld camera.” This project aims to make its visual storytelling truly visual, by putting autism’s stunning and turbulent history on screen for the first time.

Beginning with the life odyssey of the first American child diagnosed with autism, who is still alive today, the film will unfold the stories of ordinary people who fought to persuade society to accept those who are different.  Storytellers will include people who are on the autism spectrum, as well as those who loved and supported them, during decades-long battles that liberated children from dank institutions, won for them the right to go to school, and fought back against the professional establishment who argued that autism represented a failure of motherly love.

In a companion narrative arc, Zucker will also share the story of her son, Mickey, an autistic man who is incredibly appealing, gentle and vulnerable, and who is still struggling to find his own place in the world. Sadly, acceptance of adults with autism dramatically lags behind the progress made for kids. When they grow up, as the 1 in 68 kids diagnosed with autism of course will, many will still face rejection, isolation and abuse. Mickey is one of the lucky ones. Today he lives in a supportive environment where his difference is embraced and supported.

But such settings are still rare for the majority of autistic adults, a reality set in dramatic relief when (as seen in the trailer), Zucker discovers how life turned out for that first diagnosed child. That, in itself, is a beautiful and inspiring story, which illustrates what autistic people need today, and tomorrow: communities which embrace them, and always have their backs.

As two journalists with a personal connection to autism, they aim to inspire acceptance of and support for people on the spectrum by telling their stories with honesty and compassion. The two most recently won an Emmy Award for their story “A Different Kind of Boyhood”, airing on ABC’s Nightline they reported on the lives of two autistic boys over 15 years as they grew into young men.

The film is being produced in conjunction with Brave Dog Productions, by four-time Emmy award-winning Editor and Producer Ray Conley.



Associated Members

Caren Zucker, Independent Filmmaker


John Donvan, Independent Filmmaker