Thursday, September 16, 2010

On Donald T

As part of my studies in autism, I've read Kanner's original article multiple times. The case that I've paid the most attention to -- and studied across multiple articles -- is that of "Donald T"... in large part because it was the first. I've followed it across multiple papers, and even spent a while last year looking for any and all available information regarding him in the literature. The most recent information, however, was in a 1971 followup -- after this, there was no real information on what happened to the first person to ever be diagnosed as autistic.

That changed recently. As I found out this morning, reporters for the editorial and literary magazine The Atlantic (which has a really long and interesting history) managed to track Donald T down and wrote a genuinely fascinating article about him.

Go. Read. Then come back.

Finished? Good.

The article's nowhere near perfect. It gets some things wrong. It has some bad information.

Still, Donald himself is the main point... and I don't think that needs any further remark. The main takeaway message remains: At the age of 77, Donald Gray Triplett, the first person to ever be diagnosed as autistic, is doing just fine.


  1. First, thanks for posting this on facebook. After sharing your post with a friend she shared this little NPR article with me. It's a conversation with the writers of the Donald Triplette article. It is also problematic, but it is nice to see that the discussion is starting.

    Making The World Work For Adults With Autism

  2. I just finished reading it. It blew me away. It just goes to show that we can never 'write off' those young kids who show no awareness of people and no interests in "typical" play.
    By the way, you said you work in a behavior center in Dade? What's the name? I'm looking for resources in Dade because I'm taking my BCBA exam early next year and I'm looking for employment a little closer to home. Do you know of any other places in Dade?

  3. I'm doing HR work at the moment, actually -- mostly trying to get everyone's documentation straightened out.

    Yes, it's at a behavior services provider (not a behavior center) in Dade (Hialeah), but I'm not sure how much room there is for a new therapist at the moment. Things change on a regular basis, though, and I can't really comment too much there.

    I mostly know places in Broward, though... sorry that I can't help too much RE employment.

  4. As I was reading the article I was curious about what adults on the spectrum would think of it. Could you say more about what they got wrong?

  5. It's not so much an "adult on the spectrum" thing. It's that they actually got a number of facts wrong.

    For instance, their discussion of incidence, prevalence, and causation is highly flawed. Similarly, the use of the term "symptoms of autism" to describe autistic traits is not only inaccurate (autism is classed as a mental/developmental disorder in the DSM, not a disease), but actively bigoted.

    That takes care of the specific things I was thinking of when writing that sentence, anyway... there's a bit more in the article, but I really need to get to sleep.