Repost – The first one diagnosed

(This was originally posted on the 24th September 2010 at

The Atlantic, a magazine in the US, had an article on Donald Gray Triplett, the first person to ever be diagnosed with autism.

Born in 1933, Donald Triplett was institutionalised at age 3 in a sanatorium. A year later, his parents removed him from care and took him back home. In 1938, Donald and his parents were interviewed by a child psychiatrist named Leo Kanner, the top child psychiatrist of the time. Oliver, Donald’s father, wrote a letter to Kanner describing Donald’s symptoms. He had “no apparent affection” for his parents, was obsessed with “spinning blocks and pans and other round objects” and had phobias to milk, swings and tricycles. When asked questions, he gave short, terse answers.

Donald may have appeared a hopeless case to many, but how did things turn out for him?

  • He attended a normal school and even went to Millsaps College;
  • He drives a car;
  • He plays golf regularly;
  • He lives independently;
  • He has travelled to over 30 countries and 28 of the States in the USA.

The point I would ask people to take from the article? Even children with seemingly intractable autism can, with the proper support, develop beyond all expectations and live not just independent, but fulfilling, lives.

One final thing: the authors of the article, John Donvan and Caren Zucker, mention that children diagnosed with autism will grow up to become adults. How best to deal with them?

“[W]e can dispense with the layers of sorrow, and interpret autism as but one more wrinkle in the fabric of humanity. Practically speaking, this does not mean pretending that adults with autism do not need help. But it does mean replacing pity toward them with ambition for them. The key to this view is a recognition that “they” are part of “us,” so that those who don’t have autism are actively rooting for those who do.”

If I was asked to formulate a principle of Neurodiversity, that would be it. People with autism and other conditions are not to be pitied, they are to be viewed as human and given practical help. Thank you John and Caren.

About autismjungle

I am a Software Test Analyst. Shortly before I turned 21 I was officially diagnosed, although I had long suspected I was autistic. Welcome to my blog
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2 Responses to Repost – The first one diagnosed

  1. Billy Cresp says:

    I’ve had enough of you aspies pretending that truly disabled autistics don’t exist while you thumb your nose at them with your hubris, as you glorify the fortunate ones. What a ridiculous thought to mention one anecdote of one autistic simply because he was originally seen by Kanner, as if the understanding of autism depends on that one person, and turn that into a prognosis for any autistic. That’s a very unscientific move, and is just as sleazy as the crap from the disgraceful anti-vaccinationists. You’re not the one with the grace to mention that autistics become adults and to condemn pity. I’m an adult with a spectrum diagnosis, and I can’t be put into any of those happy-go-lucky articles about successful autistics. I’m a disaster and I’m being tossed around because my disabilities leave me so weak and helpless. I undergo nonstop humiliations and broken expectations. Remember where the sorrow comes from.

  2. autismjungle says:

    Firstly, Billy, the fact that I speak of autistics who “made it” does not mean that I pretend that severely disabled autistics exist, and you are strawmanning to claim that I do.
    Secondly, in the very first post on this blog, I used the famous quote “If you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic”. You are strawmanning again by insinuating that I was extending his story to all autistics.
    Thirdly, thank you for condemning the anti-vaccination liars who insist that vaccinations cause autism and a host of other problems.
    Fourthly, I am an adult autistic. I know that autism doesn’t just vanish when an autistic child reaches adulthood.
    Fifthy, see a therapist Billy. You need help, or at the very least, a sympathetic ear.

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