(This was originally posted on the 24th September 2010 at http://africanjungle.iblog.co.za/2010/09/24/the-first-one-diagnosed/)
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.