Donald Grey Triplett was the first person to be diagnosed with autism. The fulfilling life he has led offers an important lesson for today, John Donvan and Caren Zucker write.
After Rain Man, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the next great autism portrayal the stage or screen might want to consider taking on is the life of one Donald Grey Triplett, an 82-year-old man living today in a small town in the southern United States, who was there at the very beginning, when the story of autism began.
The scholarly paper which first put autism on the map as a recognisable diagnosis listed Donald as “Case 1” among 11 children who – studied by Baltimore psychiatrist Leo Kanner – crystallised for him the idea that he was seeing a kind of disorder not previously listed in the medical textbooks. He called it “infantile autism”, which was later shortened to just autism.