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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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4.2 Donald Triplett

In the 1940s, Donald Triplett was one of the small group of children from whom Kanner first formulated his ideas about autism. Among Kanner’s case notes at the time is this quote from Donald’s mother:

Another of his recent hobbies is with old issues of Time magazine. He found a copy of the first issue of March 3, 1923, and has attempted to make a list of the dates of publication of each issue since that time. So far he has gotten to April 1934. He has figured the number of issues in a volume and similar nonsense.

(Kanner, 1943, p. 222)

You may note a hint of exasperation at Donald’s unusual special interest. His mother had also concluded that he was mentally ill, and on the advice of psychiatrists, she and her husband had Donald committed to an institution. But they regretted their decision and brought him home again after a year. When he was growing up, Donald was described as socially aloof and eccentric, but with a number of savant skills, such as his exceptional memory for numbers. Despite his difficulties, he sustained employment in a bank, and learned to drive, play golf and to travel independently.

Donald is in his eighties now, enjoys his life and remains a valued and cherished member of his community in Forest, Mississippi. Factors that have clearly made a big difference to this outcome are his parents’ positivity, their ability to ensure a secure future for him and the positive social support he has received from the community. Although he remains a loner, he meets others to play golf, and participates in church and other local activities (Donvan and Zucker, 2010).