How can kindness make this world better? How do we connect with those who are different? Who was the first person ever diagnosed with autism? In a Different Key, an award-winning documentary seeks to answer these questions with deep empathy, sharing the story of the now-elderly man in rural Mississippi to get insights into his life.
The movie is based on the In a Different Key book written by Peabody award-winning television news producer and 25-year ABC News journalist Caren Zucker and John Donvan, an Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ABC.
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“That book really was the culmination of a decade and a half of work that Caren and I did together at ABC News,” says Donvan. “After her son Mikey was diagnosed, Caren made a big career decision and stepped off the fast-track of TV news producing, but stayed on as a TV news producer with a focus much more toward telling the stories of people on the autism spectrum.”
In Zucker’s efforts to inform the general public on what autism really is, she enlisted Donvan to help teach her audience the importance of acceptance and friendship for someone who is different.
“As a journalist I felt like it was really a gift that I could do the research and get the stories out there,” says Zucker. “I was learning about it and simultaneously as I was trying to share it with the world for people who are on the spectrum, for families, but also for everybody else who didn't know anything about autism.”
“It’s hard to believe today, but in the 1990s autism was still a very unfamiliar concept to most people and Caren wanted to change that. She asked me to be her partner in telling stories about autism at ABC News,” says Donvan. “We created a beat called Echoes of Autism and we did a lot of stories for Nightline and the Evening News and Good Morning America about the realities of life on the autism spectrum.”
The duo learned all about the different facets of autism through their research and consider their news stories and the In a Different Key book and movie an incredible vehicle for positive change.
“As a journalist I felt like it was really a gift that I could do the research and get the stories out there,” says Zucker. “I was learning about it and simultaneously as I was trying to share it with the world for people who are on the spectrum, for families, but also for everybody else who didn’t know anything about autism.”
After the success of some initial showings of their movie, Zucker and Donvan are looking forward to a national release later this year.
“The movie will be showing on PBS broadcast nationally in September and in the meanwhile, we’re having some previews, one of them in Phoenix in May, to excite and get people inspired about seeing the film in the fall,” says Zucker.
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Zucker shares the spotlight in the movie, sharing her own experience with her son, Mikey’s autism diagnosis. She didn’t know what the future would hold for her son, until she met the notable Denise Resnik, founder of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource center two decades ago, creator of First Place Arizona, supportive housing for adults who have autism or other neurological challenges and all-around autism gamechanger on a national level.
“I was so blown away with the community,” says Zucker. “Mikey is now a resident at a First Place and that is one of the stories that you learn about in the film, as well about my goal of finding a place in the world for him.”
The movie has an important, yet simple message for the watcher—be ready and willing to be a friend to someone who is different from you.
“Figure out what autism is and when you recognize that somebody you’re encountering in your life is autistic, be ready to be a friend, it’s really really that simple,” says Donvan.