Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism


After ” Rain Man ” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, ” the next big portrait of autism on stage or on the big screen could revolve around the life of Donald Triplett Grey.

This man of 82, who lives in a small town south of the United States, was there from the beginning, when the history of autism began.

Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism

The first scientific paper to talk about autism was diagnosed quoting Donald as the “Case 1” from among 11 children , which -estudiados by psychiatrist Baltimore, USA, Leo Kanner- helped him to clarify the idea it was to a type of which had not spoken before disorder in medical books.

He called it “infantile autism”. It would later be called, simply, autism.

Born in 1933 in forsest, Mississippi, the son of Beamon and Mary Triplett, a lawyer and a schoolteacher, Donald was a deeply introverted boy who never gave a smile to her mother or responded to his voice.

It seemed to be all the time in a world apart, with its own logic , and had a way of using language.

Donald could speak and imitate words, but mimicry did not seem fit the meaning.Often echoed words he heard say about him.

For a time, for example, he began to utter the words “vine” and “Chrysanthemum” again and again, along with the phrase “could put a little comma”.

Her parents tried it opened, without success. Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism

Donald was not interested in playing with other children and even looked up when a man dressed as Santa Claus visited him to surprise him.

Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism
Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism
Image captionHis parents sent him to an institution, as was done at that time with the “rare” children, but decided to bring it back home.

And yet, his parents knew that he listened and he was smart. Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism

At Christmas, at 2 and a half years singing carols had only heard her mother sing once, and it was with perfect voice tone.

His exceptional memory enabled him to recall the order of a set of pearls that her father had placed randomly on a string.

But his intellectual gifts did not prevent his admission to an institution, as recommended by the doctor.

It was always like, at that time, for children who were leaving “normal” as was the case with Donald.

The routine was advised parents to try to forget the child and continue on with their lives.

In mid-1937, Beameon and Mary carried out the recommendation, and Donald, 3 years, was admitted to an institution, away from home.

But they did not forget him.

They visited him every month, probably arguing whenever they begin the long journey back to his home in Forest, whether they should bring it with them back home next time.

And that’s what they did in late 1938.


What is autism? Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism

  • The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behavior
  • Children with ASD show symptoms before age 3 , although sometimes the diagnosis can be made later
  • For many years it was considered a disease very rare (5 out of every 10,000 children)
  • Since 1990, the rate of autism increased dramatically worldwide (60 of 10,000)
  • There is no “cure”, but the therapies of speech and language, occupational therapy and educational support can greatly help children and parents

Sources: National Health System in the UK (NHS) / Autism Research Institute (ARI)


That was when he was taken to the office of Dr. Kanner in Baltimore.

Initially, Kanner knew not how to proceed. I was not sure what psychiatric “box” should put Donald , it did not seem to fit into any of them.

But after several visits Donald, and after treating other children with similar behavior, he published a revolutionary document setting out the terms for a new diagnosis.

Since then, the history of autism advance through the decades, with abundant and varied dramatic episodes and heroic and evil, by researchers, educators, activists and autistic own strange turns.

Donald, however, did not participate in it. Baltimore after he had returned to Mississippi, where he spent, inadvertently, the rest of his life.

Full life – Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism

Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism
Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism
Image caption Donald has traveled to dozens of countries and live in the city where he was born and raised. At 82, he is a happy retired.

Well, not exactly. Donald still lives and today, at 82, is in perfect condition and is the star of our new book.

When we locate for the first time in 2007, we were astonished to discover how his life had changed.

He lives in his own house (the house where he grew up) in a safe community, where everyone you know and where you see your friends regularly. Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism

It has a Cadillac and a hobby practiced daily, golf, provided it is not practicing his other hobby, travel.

Donald has traveled only by the US and has visited dozens of countries. It has a closet full of albums with the photos he took during his travels.

It is the picture of a happy retired away from life in an institution that almost was his destination, where surely have withered away and never have done any of these things.

A others bring her son back home, he worked tirelessly to help you connect with the world around him , providing language and teaching him how to take care of himself.

Some of it influenced him, because when he was a teenager Donald managed toattend high school regularly, and later went to college, where he adopted French and mathematics.

Donald himself also deserves recognition. It was, after all, his innate intelligence and their own ability to learn what led him to exploit its potential fully.

We met a man who Donald met in college, now minister and tried to teach him to swim in a nearby river. When that failed, he tried to give lessons on how to speak more fluidly, which was also a lost cause.

The reason, Donald still had autism. And it did not disappear.

However, Donald was gradually overcoming the power of the disease to limit his life , but still had obsessions, spoke quite mechanically and could not hold a conversation beyond a few rounds of jokes exchanged.

And despite everything, she has a great personality and is someone with whom it is a pleasure to hang out, and a good friend.

Donald history suggests that parents who hear for the first time your child has autism should understand that, with this particular diagnosis, luck is never thrown.

Each person has a unique ability to grow and learn, as did Donald , despite his achievements reached much later than most people. Donald Gray Triplett the first child diagnosed with autism

For example, he learned to drive well into the twenties. But now, the road is still yours. Literally.

It is, in a way, a perfect ending. And if you get to make a film about the life of Donald, hopefully in the credits appears a line saying: “Producers want to thank the city of Forest, Mississippi, for making this possible story”.

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