Donald Triplett

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Donald Triplett
Donald Triplett.jpg
Donald Triplett in January 2016
Donald Gray Triplett

(1933-09-08) September 8, 1933 (age 86)
EducationMillsaps College
Alma materMillsaps College
OccupationBank teller (retired)
Known forBeing the first person to be diagnosed with what is now known as autism
Home townForest, Mississippi, U.S.

Donald Gray Triplett (born September 8, 1933[1]) is an American man known for being the first person diagnosed with autism. He was first diagnosed by Leo Kanner, and was labeled as "Case 1".[2] Triplett was noted for his savant abilities, particularly the ability to name musical notes played on a piano, and the ability to perform rapid mental multiplication.[3]

Early life[edit]

Donald Triplett was born to Beamon and Mary Triplett. Initially, Donald was a deeply introverted child who did not respond to his parents' gestures or voices. His language was unusual, he did not play with other children, and he seemed distant from others. Triplett was institutionalized at three years of age, but his parents pulled him out one year later. His father, Beamon, described him as socially withdrawn but interested in number patterns, music notes, letters of the alphabet, and U.S. president pictures. By the age of 2, he had the ability to recite the 23rd Psalm in the Old Testament and memorized 25 questions and answers from the Presbyterian catechism.[clarification needed] He was also interested in creating musical chords.[4]

When the Tripletts went to Baltimore, Maryland to meet with Leo Kanner and was eventually diagnosed him with autism.[5]

Education and adult life[edit]

The diagnosis of Donald Triplett would lead to the complex history of autism, which involved many conflicts among autism personnel and advocates.

From there, the history of autism would unfold across decades, playing out in many and varied dramatic episodes, bizarre twists, and star turns, both heroic and villainous, by researchers, educators, activists and autistic people themselves.

— John Donvan and Caren Zucker, BBC Magazine[4]

However, Donald Triplett and his family were distant from all this. He was enrolled in the local high school, where his teachers and classmates were accepting, and in 1958 he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in French from Millsaps College. Later, he returned to his supportive hometown where he worked at the bank that was owned by his family. He learned to drive and traveled around the world in his spare time.[2]


Triplett was tracked down by John Donvan and Caren Zucker so they could find out his life's story for an article "Autism's First Child" in The Atlantic. He was later featured in the book In a Different Key.[3][6]


  1. ^ 1:04 in linked video: "Donald T. was born at full... ...September 8, 1933"
  2. ^ a b Pallardy, Richard. "Donald Triplett". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b Donvan, John; Zucker, Caren. "Autism's First Child". The Atlantic. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b Donvan, John; Zucker, Caren (21 January 2016). "Donald Grey Triplett: The first boy diagnosed as autistic". BBC News. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  5. ^ Kanner, L (1968). "Autistic disturbances of affective contact". Acta Paedopsychiatrica. 35 (4): 100–36. PMID 4880460.
  6. ^ Atlas, Darla (29 January 2016). "Donald Triplett: Autism's First-Ever Patient, Now 82, 'Has Continued to Grow'". Retrieved 19 March 2017.