The Real Story Behind Autism Patient 'Donald T.'

John Donvan and Caren Zucker have written a beautiful article for The Atlantic, entitled, “Autism’s First Child“, accompanied by a video packet that ran on Good Morning America and followed by a lengthy interview on NPR, about the first patient ever diagnosed with autism, Donald Triplett. These reporters share how they searched and found this man who had been lost to history, and share with the world what a successful life he turned out to have.

Donald was raised in a small town, by parents who stuck by him despite the recommendation of professionals to institutionalize him, and alongside neighbors who loved, accepted and supported him. He went to college, joined a fraternity, worked at a bank, drives a car and plays golf. It is a story that, as a mother of an eight-year-old boy with autism, gives me hope.

But the problem is that it wasn’t the whole story, or the most newsworthy part of the story.


You see, in 1943, Leo Kanner, a Johns Hopkins child psychologist, wrote a paper in which he described a rare disorder he found in eleven children. The disorder became known as “autism” and Kanner referred to the first case he found as “Donald T.”, a boy who was indeed lost to history. And it was a journalist who found that Donald was still alive and living well in Mississippi. But it wasn’t ABC’s Donvan and Zucker who found him in 2010. It was a UPI’s Dan Olmsted who found him in 2005.

That year, Olmsted began a series for UPI called, “The Age of Autism,” which investigated the relationship between vaccines and autism. While reading Kanner’s paper to look for clues to any toxic exposures or physical symptoms the first children with autism may have had, Olmsted discovered that Kanner’s patient zero lived in an area where a water-soluble form of mercury was first used in forestry. Potentially clinically significant as mercury was the component in vaccines suspected by many of being a causal factor in autism. So Dan Olmsted decided to try to find Donald T. And he found him living a full life in Mississippi.

While Kanner’s other cases had poor outcomes, Donald did not. It turns out Donald received a medical treatment that Kanner never recorded when, as a boy, he fell victim to crippling juvenile arthritis. Donald was treated with gold salts and his brother reported that as a result, Donald not only recovered from the arthritis, but “the proclivity to excitability and extreme nervousness had all but cleared up.”

Donald began to recover from “autism.”

This is highly relevant to the autism debate because gold has an extreme affinity for mercury and pulls it from the body. It is also significant because arthritis links his “nervous disorder” to his autoimmune disorder. It is historical evidence that the claims that parents have been making, that their children with autism had regressed after their mercury-containing vaccines, and that treating them for their autoimmune symptoms makes their “autism” better.

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In 2005, Dan Olmsted published a series of articles on Donald, the most explosive being, “The Age of Autism: Case 1 Revisited“, which poured gasoline on the fiery debate on whether or not autism is a result of medical poisoning and is treatable.

Everyone in the debate has known about Donald T. for five years, and although Olmsted did not publish his full name, it was known by many. Googling – “Donald T.” autism – returns more than 8,000 pages.

Olmsted wrote the “Age of Autism” series until 2007, when he left UPI and started a blog called, “Age of Autism,” where thousands a day come to comment and debate.

This past Tuesday, Olmsted published a book, written with autism parent Mark Blaxill, called “The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine and a Manmade Epidemic.” Chapter 6 is where you will find Donald Triplett, who decided to come out of his self-imposed anonymity to be interviewed in May of 2009 by Olmsted and Blaxill to expand on the public understanding of his story for the book.


As an autism blogger whose commentary on the initial Age of Autism series eventually became an installment in the series itself, I was given an advance copy last May. I was so floored by the book that I built them the web site for it, gratis.

Galley copies also went to The Atlantic, NPR and ABC, but the outlets didn’t tell Olmsted’s story, instead they carried Donvan and Zucker’s story. Given that Donvan is a correspondent on Nightline, that Zucker is a producer for ABC in New York as well as an autism parent, and that this team has been reporting on autism for over a decade, it is impossible to fathom that they would not have known about the book (and Olmsted’s reporting) if a little autism blogger, tucked away on the coast of Maine, had one in her hands last spring.

So imagine my shock as I watched the video of Donvan and Zucker entitled, “Finding Donald,” where they describe the process of tracking down who “Donald T.” actually was, pronounce to the world that Kanner’s first autism case was sill alive, write extensively about his life, and fail to mention that he is evidence that blanket government health care mandates and FDA corruption and/or incompetence may be causing widespread neurological and immune system damage to more than one percent of children in this country.

Donvan/Zucker hit three major outlets with their Donald T. revelation on the exact same day that the book Olmsted has been researching for six years hit the shelves. Olmsted, his reporting, his book and Donald’s connection to the mercury/autoimmunity aspects of autism, that Donvan and Zucker even touched on in their article, are never mentioned.

It all begs the question, why would these news outlets make an end around “The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine and a Manmade Epidemic,” and try to bury this book?