The First ASD Diagnosis - Donald Triplett - Beloved Neighbor and Traveler

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History takes place during a time nearer and farther away than one might think. The medical diagnosis process of ASD begins with a man named Donald Triplett, born in 1933 and still lives today. While researching Mr. Triplett, I took note in particular of his empathetic qualities and desire to see the world albeit at his own pace and discretion. I watched his family and community support and accept Donald without trying to change his character or personhood. Community-based support and a mother’s intuition may be guiding principles we empathize with and should model to some extent.

Donald Triplett was born in September 1933 in Forest Mississippi to Beamon and Mary Triplett and was the eldest of his siblings. At around two years of age, Mary took note of the social delays that her son had; he disliked eating, fixated on certain objects, and even at two, had the ability to perfectly recite certain religious verses. In the 1930’s it was quite common to institutionalize those who had a perceived mental health condition or atypical behavior. At doctor’s urging, Beamon and Mary committed their son to John Hopkins and it was there where Leo Kanner started his observations of Donald, and that in part laid the groundwork for observing ASD in very young children. (*I would also like to note that, while recanting this history, I’m not approving of the treatment autistic children were subjected to in these hospitals. Many of these practices would not be utilized today).

In 1942, at age 9, Triplett’s care was shifted out of the hospital and he went to reside with the Lewises, a couple that owned a farm and lived about 10 miles from town. This couple was noted for their remarkable foresight in utilizing Donald’s interests: for example: Utilizing his skill at taking measurements to build a well or to properly count rows of corn and use a horse and plow. During high school he was living with his parents again and by all accounts had a good experience with school and education as he aged slowly and took part in more social situations and by in large was accepted by his peers even with his peculiarities. Donald earned a bachelor’s degree in French from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.

Later in life, Mr. Triplett was able to travel to “Germany, Tunisia, Hungary, Dubai, Spain, Portugal, France, Bulgaria, and Colombia—some 36 foreign countries and 28 U.S. states in all, including Egypt three times, Istanbul five times, and Hawaii 17. He’s notched one African safari, several cruises, and innumerable PGA tournaments.”- The Atlantic. Donald is an avid golfer as well. By all accounts, most of his community seems to have a high opinion of him and accepts him for all of his unique qualities.

Donald Triplett’s story showcases how someone can flourish with the right support. Parents who trust their gut and have the resources to support their son. It makes me wonder what the rest of my community members could achieve if we also had certain support. We’ve come a long way. We have resources like ASDNext that allows autistic voices to be front in the center and I’m positive we will continue to have great progress to support those with ASD going forward.

What about you readers? Have you heard about Donald Triplett? Were you surprised to learn that he still lives today?

Please take care and I’ll see you all soon!


Ziggy is a Certified Peer Specialist in PA and currently resides in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Let’s Act committee, a group of peers devoted to raising awareness about mental health care. In his downtime, he enjoys reading novels and watching nature documentaries.

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