#Project324 Week 1 – The ‘first’ boy

Week 1: I sent out the rest of the cards to Greece, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iraq and Ukraine. Some have already been distributed! I hope you’re looking out for them wherever you are.

The end of week one made me think of the first autism diagnosis – so I did a bit of digging.

Donald Grey Triplett was born September 1933 in Forest, Mississippi and has the title of being the first person to be diagnosed with Autism. Today, he is 82 years old still living in the small town where the first recorded story of Autism began.

Donald was “Case 1” among 11 children who were studied by Baltimore psychiatrist Leo Kanner. In his scholarly paper, which you can read here (http://simonsfoundation.s3.amazonaws.com/share/071207-leo-kanner-autistic-affective-contact.pdf) he explains how he was witnessing ‘fascinating peculiarities‘ in his patients and that there was no research on in any medical textbooks. He dubbed it “infantile autism“, which was later shortened to just autism.

John Donvan and Caren Zucker are the authors of In A Different Key: The Story of Autism in which they get to know Donald and follow his extraordinary life. Donald was the child of Beamon and Mary Triplett, a lawyer and a school teacher. His behaviour in early years is described as ‘profoundly withdrawn‘, ‘tuned into a separate world with its own logic‘, and ‘its own way of using the English language‘.

Donald seemed uninterested in what his peers were keen on according to Dr Kanner’s article. He didn’t care for things like play dates, or a fully-costumed Santa Claus. However, at 2-and-a-half years old at Christmas time, his father reported that he sang carols his mother sung to him only once and he could re-create an the order in which his father had randomly laced beads on to a string once. Dr Kanner reported that Donald learned the whole alphabet “backward as well as forward” and counted to 100 by the age of 3. He had tantrums and a temper, in fear of being spanked or switched but “he could not associate his behaviour with his punishment“. Words he used were specifically literal and had an inflexible meaning. However, Dr Kanner describes how Donald ‘christened’ his water colour bottles by the names of the Dionne quintuplets (the first quintuplets known to have survived their infancy). Annette for blue, Cecile for red etc and then he explained that Annette and Cecile make purple.

In mid-1937, Beamon and Mary were ordered by a doctor to send 3 year old Donald to an institution. They visited him monthly. In late 1938, after one of their visits they did what they wanted to do all along; they took Donald home with them.

This is where Dr Kanner first appeared in Donald’s life. Dr Kanner mentioned how unsure he was about which psychiatric “box” Donald fitted into, and had to investigate and compare extensively before publishing his ground-breaking paper establishing autism as a new diagnosis in 1945.

That’s it – that’s how this decade-long struggle begun. With dedicated parents, a community that embraced something unique and a doctor who looked deeper.

Today, Donald lives in the same house he grew up in, in a community where everyone knows him, with friends, a Cadillac and his favourite hobby – golf. Donald has travelled around the US and abroad, on his own, and has the albums to prove it.

Credit goes out to his parents, who worked tirelessly to help him connect with the world around him, to give him a language he could communicate with, to help him learn to take care of himself. The recorded efforts of this family are a cornerstone of the autism community we have today, and they are role models to the families of Autism. Credit also goes out to the people of Forest, Mississippi, Donald’s community which made a the humane, probably unconscious, decision to accept him and treat him as “one of their own“; to protect him.

Donald was an important part of this community; he has his school yearbook notes from classmates and friends; he got cheered for his part in a school play. John Donvan and Caren Zucker hope to incorporate the support of the community of Forest, in their movie of Donald’s life.

#Project324 cards are out in the wild. I love how creative these team players are being; leaving cards in menus, guide books, the back pocket of jeans and, of course, in front of an Adele CD.

Cards in Greece

   
Cards in Ukraine

Cards in Belgium

    

Cards in the UK

Cards in Ireland:

   

Cards in Australia: 

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