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Donald Gray Triplett (September 8, 1933 – June 15, 2023) was an American man who was the very first person to be formally diagnosed as Autistic.[1] He was diagnosed by Leo Kanner, and carried to label "Case 1".[2]. He was identified as “Donald T.” in Kanner's 1943 paper “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact” .[3]

Life[]

Early life[]

Donald Triplett was born on September 8, 1933, to Beamon and Mary Triplett in Forest, Mississippi.[4] Donald was a deeply introverted child who did not react to his parents' voices or gestures. He did not play with other children, his language was unusual and he seemed distant from other people. When he was three years old Triplett was institutionalized, but his parents pulled him out a year later. Beamon described him as socially withdrawn but interested in music notes, number patterns, letters of the alphabet and pictures of U.S. presidents. When Triplett was just twelve months old, his father recalled, "he could hum and sing many tunes accurately." His parents had great difficulty in getting him to eat, and watching other children eating ice cream or candy did not seem to tempt him. By the time he was two years old, he had the ability to recite the 23rd Psalm in the Old Testament and memorized 25 questions and answers from a Presbyterian catechism.[5]

Triplett was also interested in creating musical chords. He was very interested in rhymes and would answer questions with only one word, usually "yes" or "no". At this age, he developed a very intense interest in pans, spinning blocks and other round objects and a dislike for swings and tricycles. He was initially not interested in slides either but began to play on them when he was alone. He had many meltdowns and was afraid of being spanked. He was, however, unable to associate his meltdowns with the punishment. He displayed echolalia and had trouble with remembering pronouns, often using "I" to refer to the person he was speaking to and "you" to refer to himself. When entering a room, he went to the toys straight away, ignoring all of the people in the room, including other children and a Santa Claus actor his father had hired. His mother had difficulty getting him to look at her.[6]

The Tripletts visited the Harriet Lane Home in October 1938 and met with Leo Kanner. This ultimately led to Donald being diagnosed as Autistic. Donald had multiple visits, but when he returned, he did not even look at the three physicians present, even though two remembered him from the previous visit. Instead he headed to the desk to handle papers and books. Kanner started conversations to view his "obsessive nature". He also asked him subtraction questions to which Donald peculiarly replied "I'll draw a hexagon."[7]

His behavior seemingly improved as a consequence of this, and he learned to play simple tunes on the piano. He showed better concentration and responded more clearly to his environment and other people. However, he still had Autistic meltdowns and displayed some disconcerting behavior such as putting food in his hair, standing on tables, putting house keys in the drain and chewing on paper. He learned fifteen words from an encyclopedia and without context repeated them over and over. He continued to not look at people when talking or use expressive gestures. He communicated only when he needed something and his interest dissipated once he was given or told what he needed. He became interested in categorizing films and Time magazine issues by date of publication despite having little interest in the actual contents.[8]

Adult life[]

Triplett and his family were distant from all the changes over the years. He enrolled in the local high school, where his classmates and teachers were accepting of him. In 1958, he graduated from Millsaps College with a bachelor's degree in French.[9] He later returned to his hometown, where he started work at the local Bank of Forest in 1958[10] that was partially owned by his father. He stayed for 65 years.[11] The bank stated of Triplett "“Every employee that has come through our doors since then, has fond stories and memories of him that we will treasure – looking enviously at his travel photos, having your picture taken by him as a new employee, a collection of trinkets & post cards given through the years, a nickname or number given when he met you, or even being shot by a rubber band"[12] CEO Allen Breland noted "if you gave him two three-digit numbers, he could multiply them faster than you could get the answer on a calculator"[13] His hobbies included playing golf every day[14] and in his spare time he traveled around the world.[15]

Death[]

Triplett passed away from of cancer at his home on June 15, 2023. He was 89.[16] The Bank of Forest stated that, "he will remain a fixture in our hearts for years to come. We are truly blessed to be a small part of his story as Autism’s first child.”[17]

References[]

  1. https://apnews.com/article/donald-triplett-first-autism-diagnosis-e5d2867f2a922c1aca6446b8bd89a3b7
  2. https://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~eherman/teaching/texts/Kanner%20Autistic%20Disturbances%20of%20Affective%20Contact%201943.pdf
  3. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/17/us/donald-triplett-autism-dies/index.html
  4. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Donald-Triplett
  5. https://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~eherman/teaching/texts/Kanner%20Autistic%20Disturbances%20of%20Affective%20Contact%201943.pdf
  6. https://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~eherman/teaching/texts/Kanner%20Autistic%20Disturbances%20of%20Affective%20Contact%201943.pdf
  7. https://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~eherman/teaching/texts/Kanner%20Autistic%20Disturbances%20of%20Affective%20Contact%201943.pdf
  8. https://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~eherman/teaching/texts/Kanner%20Autistic%20Disturbances%20of%20Affective%20Contact%201943.pdf
  9. https://apnews.com/article/donald-triplett-first-autism-diagnosis-e5d2867f2a922c1aca6446b8bd89a3b7
  10. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/17/us/donald-triplett-autism-dies/index.html
  11. https://apnews.com/article/donald-triplett-first-autism-diagnosis-e5d2867f2a922c1aca6446b8bd89a3b7
  12. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/17/us/donald-triplett-autism-dies/index.html
  13. https://www.ameridisability.com/donald-triplett-first-person-diagnosed-with-autism-dies-at-89/
  14. https://apnews.com/article/donald-triplett-first-autism-diagnosis-e5d2867f2a922c1aca6446b8bd89a3b7
  15. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Donald-Triplett
  16. https://www.ottandlee.com/obituary/DonDonaldGray-Triplett
  17. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/17/us/donald-triplett-autism-dies/index.html
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