Mother’s Day Reflections on Mary Triplett

Today is Mother’s Day in Canada, and as I sat here reflecting on what it has meant to me to be a mother to my 3 lovely boys, one mother in particular sprang to mind. I thought it was fitting to write a little about her today.

Apple tree blossom Fiona StolzeHerĀ  name was Mary Triplett, mother of Donald Triplett, the first child diagnosed with autism. Her son was institutionalised in 1937 at the age of 3 as his behaviour deviated too much from what was considered normal. The parents were advised to “forget the child and move forward with their lives” (see BBC link below).

Mary and her husband Beamon, being able to visit their child only once a month, decided this was totally unacceptable and eventually, a year later, took their son out of the institution and decided to seek medical help from Dr. Leo Kanner. They presented him with extensive documentation of Donald’s behaviours to enable him to get a clear picture of what they were dealing with. At first Kanner was mystified but began documenting intense observations of Donald (referring to him as “Case 1”), as well as several other children displaying similar behaviours, leading to him eventually detailing the characteristics necessary for a diagnosis of autism.

Autism is characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication disorders and repetitive behaviours. The autism spectrum ranges from severe to high functioning, and each individual that presents with this condition is highly unique.

Donald is now in his 80’s and is living in Forest, Mississippi. His success in life is attributed in part to his mother who completely believed in her son and encouraged him to participate in society and learn to take care of himself. Today he loves life, travels, plays golf and still lives in the loving and protective community he grew up in.

The love and determination of Mary Triplett was one of many factors which contributed to the demise of the regular institutionalisation of children such as Donald and the beginning of the complex story of autism. If she hadn’t decided to go against the norm and listen to her intuition, Donald might just have wasted away his life behind closed doors as countless others did.

This link will take you to the CBC “Story of Autism” article about the work of reporters Donvan and Zucker. I do not consider it to be a definitive work on autism, as claimed, but I find its value lies in retelling Donald’s story as an introduction to this topic : Donald Triplett.

Make sure to listen to the podcast interview on the above linked page.

The following video shows the two reporters from the above article, John Donvan and Caren Zucker:

Disclaimer: I don’t profess to be an expert on autism and simply enjoy sharing topics from my studies of special needs here on my blog.




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