First man diagnosed with autism from Mississippi - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

First man diagnosed with autism from Mississippi

Donald Triplett/WDAM Donald Triplett/WDAM
FOREST, MS -

Cameras flash, autographs are signed and a new book is released. This is all for one man.

This is new for 82-year-old Donald Triplett, who is not used to this attention. It is very different from his quiet life in Forest, Mississippi.  

"I like to watch detective shows and cowboy shows on TV when its too cold to play golf," Triplett said.

In the small town of under 6,000, everybody knows each other, especially Triplett.

“Everybody knows Don, everybody loves Don,” Triplett’s friend Sheila Van Fleet said. “Don knows everybody and he loves them too.”

So who is Triplett?  

Historically speaking, he is the first person diagnosed with autism. He was diagnosed in 1943.

This caught the attention of ABC Producer Caren Zucker and reporter John Donvan who share Donald’s story in their book, "In a Different Key.” 

"Donald’s story tells us that a person who is different may have challenges, but that if the rest of us can not care about the differences, maybe embrace them and honor them then that person can have a fantastic life," Donvan said.

Donald has always lived an active life. He graduated from Millsaps College, worked at a bank and has traveled to 36 countries.

"Actually I played golf just outside Reykjavik, Iceland," Triplett said.

However, it was not always easy for Donald.

He was institutionalized when he was three-years-old, which was a common occurrence for autistic children during the 1930s.

He stayed at the institution for a year before he was taken back home and surrounded by friends and family.

Donvan said he thinks the positive environment in Forest helped him become a successful adult.

"If we can bottle whatever Forest, Mississippi did over 80 years of his lifetime, and export it to the other communities, the world would be a better place for everybody," Donvan said.

Currently, one in 68 children have autism, and only 3 percent will live independently as adults, according to the National Autistic Society.  

Triplett defies these odds, which makes him an inspiration to his friends in Forest and to the parents of special needs children.

“It lets me think there’s nothing I can't do, no challenge that is not too big,” Van Fleet said. “I know he will be successful in life and overcome.”

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