Katie Staten

Life through a Literary Lens

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism – Review

9EB3681F-B52A-49B1-B4B7-3ACC820BE7AFSo for the first time, I want to add a disclaimer about myself before reviewing this book. I am not autistic. I am not on the spectrum in any way. I do not experience the things that autistic people* experience. I am speaking about autism as a neurotypical person.

Does it matter? I think so. I think any time we’re writing about a marginalized community we’re not part of, we should understand that distance, and understand that the perspectives and experiences of the people who ARE a part of that community should come through in everything we say.

The reason I mention that before anything else is that in many ways, I feel In a Different Key fails to do that. John Donvan and Caren Zucker are not on the spectrum, and while this book does a lot of amazing and impressive things that I want to make sure it gets due credit for, it does not give much credit to the perspectives and experiences of autistic people. Certainly not in a way that gives them the opportunity to advocate for themselves.

Here’s what In a Different Key excels at:

It covers the history of autism to a more expansive, extensive, and detailed degree than one could possibly expect. True, the history of autism as something that is diagnosed is very short, but this book covers everything from the chronology of scientific information, the evolution of advocacy (from the “refrigerator mother” to parent advocacy groups and even touches a little bit on autism advocacy from autistic people), the gradual growth of autism acceptance in society, debates surrounding the nature of autism and questions that surround it…this book is nothing if not ncredibly thorough.

And yet for all the information contained, all the science, history, and controversy, it never once reads like a textbook. It manages to make the story of autism feel more like a narrative than an actual textbook history, by following individual key players in the history of autism and how they fit into the broader history. From the first child diagnosed with autism, to various psychologists who tried to study it, to some of the individual families who had a child with autism and their rises to action, Zucker and Donvan manage to tell the story of autism in a way that is compelling and even deeply personal at times.

Honestly, for what it is, it’s a very good book. Well-written, crammed with information but still easily digestible, and genuinely engaging, it manages to make an objective history feel subjective enough to have you rooting for the key advocates.

That said, clearly this is not a book about advocacy, or a book aimed at advocacy. So in the sense of what the book tries to be–a detailed, expansive, all-consuming and yet still personal history of autism and an objective view of the debates that have surrounded it since its first diagnosis–it does a wonderful job. Yet I still think the missing advocacy component is important. Not because all books about autism, or about any marginalized people, are required to be activist books, but because I feel they do have a responsibility to exist within the context of activism, to speak with respect to the way they will be received and theĀ  way they NEED to be received to ensure the people they are written about are heard.

Some things it does very right. For example, in covering the vaccination debate, it leaves no room for doubt that vaccines do not cause autism, that there was never a shred of viability to the argument. While with most aspects of autism the book treats each subject the way the public would have seen it at the time, it never lends credibility to that particular conspiracy theory.

But neither does it say the other thing that needs to be said about the debate: That even if vaccines did cause autism, there’s something deeply troubling about parents who would rather risk the death of their child than risk autism. The book gets just enough into current self-advocacy to acknowledge that it’s the new turning point of autism advocacy; enough into the debate about finding a “cure” to acknowledge the debate’s existence; but still treats autism advocates in some ways as being callous and disconnected from “the rest of us,” still lends equal credibility to both sides of the debate on a cure. And while equal weight is a good thing in most educational endeavors, after covering in detail the history of autistic people being silenced at best and abused at worst, I think this book owed it to both the autism community and its neurotypical readers to ensure the identity of autistic people is represented and respected.

That’s where it fell apart for me. I spent the whole book fascinated, engaged, sometimes disgusted by the treatment of autistic people and sometimes encouraged by the way society seemed to be taking steps toward changing for the better. But I also spent the whole book excited for the good part–the part where autistic people got to advocate for themselves, the part where we got a chance to understand why autism is not a burden or a struggle but a part of identity, as my friends on the spectrum have always explained it to be for them. When that part came, it never lived up to what it needed to be.

*”People First” language suggests saying “people with autism” because it puts the person before the disablity, but friends of mine (and even some strangers I happen to have heard from) have said that they prefer “austistic person” because their autism is a big part of who they are, so I have chosen to respect that here.

**I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.



It’s been a hell of a(n unannounced) hiatus, y’all.

Pregnancy complications, and then two days of inducing labor, and then a c-section, and then six weeks of new motherhood have been more than enough to keep me away from blogging. (It doesn’t help that my daughter has developed a habit of needing to be held/nursed constantly, and doesn’t seem to like to take naps.)

I’m working on a book review, which I’m hoping will be up within the week, depending how much the baby lets me work. Then I want to get back into writing poetry, because I’ve been reading it a lot lately and I just have this NEED to create something. (On that note, if you’re blessed with the opportunity, pick up Autopsy by Donte Collins. Donte is a FANTASTIC poet who happens to be from my area and if I’m ever HALF the poet they are I’ll consider myself a success.)

Somehow I’ve still been getting a handful of views most days, so thank you to those of you who have been sticking around to read old posts! I’m going to get active again soon, I promise. I am hoping to try my hand at NaPoWriMo this year, even with a full time job and a full time baby, and I’d like to get into the habit of reviewing more than one book every several months, plus I want to actually write some original stuff once in a while again too. I’d promise a post within a certain time frame, but babies make deadlines difficult, so you’ll get one as soon as I can manage it.

In the meantime, I’ll be around checking in on things once in a while still. If anyone has any questions for me, either about my writing, about me, about books/other peoples’ writing, etc., or if anyone wants to recommend a book (poetry especially but honestly I’m down for just about anything), hit me up here OR on my Facebook page here!

In Memoriam


And then it was a Thursday afternoon,
and no flags hung at half-mast,
and the sun in all its disrespect
refused the proper mourning garments

and the part of your memory that longed for death
no longer knew its name or home. And you learned

that some things can give and give
and not be hollow, that some hollow things
can choose to stop the echo inside themselves.

Is there a word for a dissection of the self?
Scalpel ruthless and wandering, I-shaped
incisions jagged and gaping, pouring tar instead of blood?
Is there a word for the way your organs
betray you, go septic, just from meeting air?

You learned it once; to crack yourself open,
to find catharsis in the strange, transient decay,
until like the ouroboros you fell into yourself.

And then suddenly it’s a different day
and you are young, and you are screaming,
and the part of your memory that longed for death
has learned a new defiant longing, has learned
how many words there are for self-dissection,
all the forgotten lyrics in a lifetime of music.


A childhood hero of mine took his own life a couple weeks ago. It took me some time to even attempt to put my feelings into words, but here’s the attempt, anyway.

RIP, Chester Bennington.


So I am really bad at this.

I’ve been trying really hard to do better at blogging, but priorities have been slightly rearranged.

Um. Well, first of all…I’m pregnant!

I found out April 30 and I’m due January 5. So that’s been eating a lot of my brain power. (Literally. Baby Brain is real, you guys. I think my baby is a zombie and is eating all my brain and making me dumb.)

It’s meant more appointments and other things to make me busy that I’m not used to.

I’ve given up on PuckerMob (something I rarely mentioned here anyway) but wanted to still have a place where I could control my own non-literature-related writing content, so you can also find me at ThatFeministMom.wordpress.com! It’s my new place to talk about feminism and other social justice type issues, parenting and all that I’m learning along the way, and where those things intersect.

I am still writing poetry, but not as often since NaPoWriMo. It burned me out pretty bad, and right now I want to be a little bit more reserved about sharing my poetry. But I want to get back into writing ABOUT writing, and more importantly, writing about “life through a literary lens” as the blog title suggests. Literature has always been a filter through which I’ve understood my life and the world around me, and I think delving back into that and writing about it as such is going to be a great way to help me in my other blogging and writing endeavors.

So I’ll try not to let this semi-hiatus go on much longer, but be patient with me if I go a while between posts. Life has suddenly gotten a little more chaotic than it used to be, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. It might take me some time to adjust!

Of Something Else

It is a Tuesday night in North Carolina,
in my brother’s new apartment’s living room,
just past midnight, in a quiet town
at the edge of a suburb at the edge of an unimpressive city,
on a bright night on a brightly lit street
with a moon just out of my sight that must be full or almost full
forcing its way through the window
with enough light that I have just, by its almost holy grace,
finished reading Sylvia Plath for the first time,
convinced that I have truly found myself,
or maybe that I am about to find myself and I am scared.

It is a Tuesday night in North Carolina and tomorrow
I will put my feet in an ocean
for the first time since I was seven years old,
and I will spend the next ten years trying to find metaphors
for the vastness between the horizon and the sand at my feet,
or between the somewhere hovering soul of Sylvia Plath and the smell of ink,
or for how I think souls work,
or for how no one’s soul is real.

I have not yet learned how many selves
there are yet to discover. There are scars on my arms
that have almost faded completely,
that I have not mentioned to anyone since I was sixteen,
that I do not yet know will be replaced someday
when I think I am too old for such nonsense.
For now, there is a peace in me.
Finding myself means I have sat across a table
from myself in an empty room,
touched my own arms, my own hair,
my own face, reached through my chest and run my fingers
through all the uncertainty,
and decided I am content.

It is a Tuesday night in North Carolina,
or maybe it is a Saturday night or a Monday night,
and the only sound I can hear is the crickets,
and the wind, and my fingers gently caressing the pages,
and my breathing, and my parents next to me sleeping on cots,
and the dog snoring in the next room,
and the leaves outside rustling,
and the moonlight telling me something I can’t understand and I realize
how many sounds are in the quiet,
how many places are on the edge of something else.

NaPoWriMo 2017 Recap

A couple days late, but I did want to do a NaPoWriMo recap.

So, I did not complete National Poetry Writing Month this year. The idea was to write a poem every single day for 30 days. I completed it last year, but fell short this year.

Except I don’t really see it as falling short at this stage. I did exactly what I set out to do, and I feel I withdrew at the right time.

No, I didn’t write thirty poems in thirty days. However, I did write to the prompts each day that I completed, which gave me the chance to explore new angles for writing and try new things in my writing. I experimented with writing in new forms, new styles, poems based on art…I learned a lot. I taught myself to stretch my poetry beyond what I was comfortabe with. Just as I knew, in the discomfort was where I found some of my favorite poems.

I’m not sorry that I backed out. I started feeling too overwhelmed to wander into discomfort, and started instead writing poems for the sake of having written them. I wasn’t learning anything from them anymore. I wasn’t letting myself feel the discomfort enough to write something different. And of course, it wasn’t worth it to push myself to complete it just to say I could and I did. I did that last year.

So here I am, having written a fair bit of stuff I hated but also a few poems I’m quite proud of. I’ll link my favorite poems I wrote this month below, and let you all get back to your regularly scheduled programming. Some of them are my favorites becuase I just think they were good poems, some because I’m proud of having worked in an uncomfortable form or style, and others just because I had so much fun with them.

Moving On
Recipe for Executive Dysfunction
Ode to Elle Woods
Current Events
Zeno’s Paradox

NaPoWriMo XX – Backing Out

I’m a little bit bummed to say it, but I won’t be completing NaPoWriMo this year.

I had a lot of fun with it this year. I do feel I did what I set out to do, which was to experiment with new writing styles and learn new things by sticking to the NaPoWriMo.net daily prompt (even when it felt like something I wouldn’t be able to do).

But the last week or so I haven’t really felt I was experimenting or learning anything new. I’ve been really burnt out, and NaPoWriMo felt like an obligation looming over me all day rather than something I was excited to do like when it first started. And as a result I started churning out poems I didn’t like at all, for the sake of having written something for the day.

Which would be fine if my only goal had been to show that I could complete NaPoWriMo, but I did that last year. I KNOW I am capable of pushing myself to finish. I don’t want to make myself dread writing each day for the sake of churning out a poem I didn’t learn anything from.

So I feel no guilt in saying I’m backing out of NaPoWriMo this year. I made it most of the way through the month, and I did some things I can be proud of. On May 1, when I’ve had the chance to review my month’s work, I’ll still write up a month in review about some of the highlights of NaPoWriMo. In the meantime, I’ll let myself take it easy the rest of this month.

NaPoWriMo 24 – Animals

Everything seems to have the head
of something else. Everything else
thinks it’s human. Almost nothing
is human, and the human is more
animalistic, proud and shameless.
Here–a cowering stag holds the hand
of a starving nun, who holds the hand
of a pious hare, who holds the hand
of a ravenous boar. All reverential
in the face of a bard, bored,
listless. All standing on a ledge,
a precipice, just above the leaves,
just above where life starts.
Almost nothing is human. The nun,
she probably has hooves beneath
that dress. The bard, she probably
hides a tail. Everything else
thinks that it is human.


Today’s NaPoWriMo.net prompt can be found here. Easier read than described by me, I think.

I’m gonna hold off on recommendations because I’m posting this so late and feeling a little burnt out today. Less than a week left!

NaPoWriMo 23 – Cat

snoozes softly
on the ottoman,
oblivious to life itself,

is temporary
in this home.
spend it touching soft


Today’s NaPoWriMo.net prompt is to write a “double elevenie,” explained here. I don’t think I executed the form in a particularly creative or unique way, but hey, it was a new form and trying new things is what I was shooting for this year!

Today’s first recommendation: “Traffic Line Romance” by my good friend over at To Form Ideas

Today’s fellow NaPoWriMo participant recommendation: “Elfchen” by Azuki Lynn

NaPoWriMo 22 – Soil

I, too, look at earth, clumped
and crumbling between my fingers,
and see life itself. As if this
is where I belong–in the soil.
As if this is where the soil
belongs, loose and damp, and
damn if it isn’t the cleanest thing
in the forest, damn if it isn’t
the purest thing I’ve touched today.

I know nothing of gardening
or agriculture or making things
grow. I know nothing, except
that where things grow is home.


Today’s NaPoWriMo.net prompt was to write a georgic, which is apparently a poem dealing with practical aspects of agriculture. I know literally nothing about agriculture, despite having grown up in farm country, so this is the closest to that I could get.

Recommendation for the day: “The Tragedy of Hats” by Clarinda Harriss

Fellow NaPoWriMo participant for the day: “Drinking the Sky” by Lindi-Ann Hewitt-Coleman